Few circumstances can make you feel even smaller than usual in the presence of the overwhelming force and magnetism of Daniel Barenboim. But one of them is sharing the back seat of a small car during a trip between Madrid and Valladolid. The conductor, who was on a whirlwind tour of three Spanish cities, for once did not want to talk so much about music, but preferred to focus instead on the wave of change rocking the Arab world - not surprising, perhaps, given that Barenboim has spent years supporting a raft of initiatives to get Israelis and Arabs to make peace, including his own East-West Divan orchestra.
Barenboim, 68, an Argentinean of Jewish descent, notes that this is the first revolution that is not the result of manipulation by leaders. "The world did not react with the kind of openness that such an act deserved," he says. "And that was a result of fear: anguish never produces good results, neither in politics nor in music."
The conductor - who also holds Israeli, Palestinian and Spanish citizenship - openly points at Israel when he talks about this outside fear of the revolution. "This is a historic opportunity for Israel to show whether it wants to be a part of the Middle East states. Otherwise, it will be a foreign body forever. For Israel, the only valid security is being accepted by its neighboring states. It needs the courage to show that it sees this revolution as an extremely positive thing."
Barenboim, ever a controversial figure, opened the season at La Scala with Wagner, despite having come in for criticism in Israel for performing the composer's work. The conductor argues that Wagner was used and abused by the Nazis, and that although a creator's ethics and esthetics should not be separated, "music has a magnificent side that allows you to forget many things."