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Daniel Barenboim during a concert at the Katara Cultural Village Opera House yesterday. Below: The audience in rapt attention. Kammutty VP)
BY RAYNALD RIVERA
DOHA: Hundreds of music enthusiasts, including Qatari men and women, gave a standing ovation to renowned pianist and composer Daniel Barenboim after an enthralling performance by him at the Katara Cultural Village here yesterday.
There were doubts whether anyone, especially Qatari citizens, would turn out for the performance by Barenboim, a Jew, after media reports about his visit led to a heated debate on local social networking sites, stoking a controversy.
But the Opera House at Katara Cultural Village was almost filled to capacity last evening and among Barenboim’s fans could be seen Qatari citizens as well as other Arabs, and they sat through the performance literally mesmerised.
It was, arguably, the first time that despite a large number of Qatari nationals expressing displeasure on social networking sites — especially Twitter — over Barenboim’s visit and music show, many had spoken openly in favour of him and asked why music should be mixed with politics and hatred among nations.
“So what if he is an Israeli? He is a supporter of the Palestinian cause,” a Qatari woman said in social networks, risking criticism from her compatriots opposed to the musician’s presence here.
“What’s the problem?” asked another Qatari. “I want to tell those who are making noise (a reference to Barenboim’s critics) that he is a famous and excellent musician. Although Israeli Jewish, he is an open backer of the people of Palestine and Gaza,” said another.
“Barenboim calls himself secular and progressive. He is a man of peace,” he added, even as many of the musician’s critics dubbed yesterday’s event a shame.
“We couldn’t get hold of any other musician?, asked an angered Qatari. “Our country has a respectable stance vis-à-vis the Palestinian issue, but this event would spoil our history,” he said.
“Qataris are changing with time and it is a welcome sign. Opinion in the community is at least divided on Barenboim’s issue and we see some supporters as well,” a community observer told this newspaper.
Three of Barenhoim’s shows were cancelled last year at the Katara Music and Dialogue Festival.
The performances, with an orchestra featuring Palestinian and Israeli musicians, were cancelled a week before they were scheduled apparently due to pressure from Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions activists to boycott all Israeli artists.
Security was tight yesterday, with no cameras allowed during the show, but the audience, composed mainly of Europeans and Latin Americans, took photos of the concert with their cell phones.
The 70-year-old Argentine-born Israeli musician displayed virtuosity playing the piano, defying his age with his music.
The two-hour show featuring Franz Schubert’s Sonata in C Minor, D.958 and Franz Schubert in A Major, D. 959 was met with repeated applause.
A number of fans patiently waited after the conclusion of the show, with some fortunate enough to have an autograph from him.
Daniel Barenboim will feature again in a chamber music concert tomorrow with his son Michael on violin and renowned pianist Elena Bashkirova. The programme for the concert to be held at the Katara Opera House will comprise four Franz Schubert masterpieces.