I guess we all have a sense of who we think of as the greatest living human, and Nelson Mandela must be at the top of most people's lists. I can't argue with that, but Daniel Barenboim comes extremely close for me. He's one of the world's finest concert and recital pianists, he's also general music director of La Scala in Milan, and of the Berlin State Opera.
He also argues passionately for Palestinian rights, and has been called a 'true anti-semite' by bewildered Israeli politicians. With the late Edward Said he set up the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra of Palestinian and Jewish youths playing music together, which he directs (in addition to all his other careers). It's wonderful that the BBC invited the orchestra and Barenboim to perform at this year's proms – and to perform all nine Beethoven symphonies, the entire cycle, two each night this week, with the ninth on Friday coinciding with the opening of the Olympics. It's an extraordinary accolade.
I'm pretty sure I saw the orchestra from the top of a bus this morning, a large group of cheerful-looking young people with instruments in cases outside the old Commonwealth Institute, obviously waiting for a coach to take them somewhere, presumably to the Royal Albert Hall to rehearse Beethoven's fifth. What a week for them! I heard part of the broadcast this evening: it sounds like a smaller orchestra than any of the great Philharmonics, but the equal of all of them for intensity, enthusiasm and commitment. It sounded great.
Barenboim was born in Buenos Aires and tango was some of the first music he heard. He records that it was his parents' music when they relaxed and went out dancing, the songs they sang at home.