May 29: daniel barenboim and me

There is a buzz around the Royal Festival Hall. Tickets are like gold dust. Every seat is packed. They have set seating up on stage near the piano. People are standing at the back of the balcony behind my seat at the centre of the back row, breathing down my neck. The flora and fauna of the Classical world are out in force. The habitues and the fair-weather public. Daniel Barenboim is in town, doing the Schubert piano sonatas. It’s like David Bowie or Kate Bush for the pop fraternity. The atmosphere is oppressive. The man in front of me has got his score out and will follow the concert with his head down, infuriatingly turning pages in the quietest moments of the andante. The woman next to me has the programme, a book of Barenboim interviews and a Barenboim biography. It is as though she is swatting up for a Barenboim exam. After one movement of the first sonata a man calls across the balcony to some poor fool: “switch that phone off”. A man turns round and rebukes an elderly woman for swallowing too loud. In the interval I hear two teenagers talking. One of theh girls says to the other: “I just love Danny so much. I want to stand close to him.” It Dannymania.
I myself have a history with Barenboim. Years ago I used to queue up for the cheap tickets for the Orchesttre de Paris and sit on the front row of the Barenboim concerts when he was chef d’orchestre there. It got so that he used to recognise my face and when I was in the Salle Pleyel cafe and he walked by in the foyer of the concert hall he’d nod at me through the glass, thinking no doubt that he knew me from somewhere though he couldn’t quite place me where. So I felt we were friends, me and Danny. And when over the years I’ve attended his concerts, it’s been like meeting up with an old friend. The complete Beethoven sonatas about six or seven years ago was our last reunion. When I see him again now it’s always a poignant moment, not so much a rendez-vous with Danny as a rendez-vous with myself, a few years on.

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