Springtime in Florence and that means the most prestigious classical music festival in Italy – the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino. It is the 74th running of the festival, a Major cultural and social event. The opening concert was a birthday gift from Daniel Barenboim to his lifelong friend Zubin Mehta, the director of the Festival who turned 75 on that day. And the present was Liszt's Piano Concerto No. 2.
There is a playfulness between the pair, who first met in the mid-fifties. But who would tell the story? Barenboim pointed at his friend and laughed: "He's the elder statesman... He rubs it in every time he can!" Mehta replied. "We met in Siena, and I observed him conducting before I even spoke to him. He was 12 years old, I came into this dark theatre and I saw this little man conducting on the stage Schumann's symphony. I was very impressed. I didn't know how young he was, I just thought he was a very short person…" "A midget," Barenboim interjected, laughing. "Say it, say it! You can say it, it's ok." Mehta went on: "One says 'little people' – I thought he was a little person. That's how our friendship started, and never diminished, never!"
Barenboim took up the story: "We changed together, in a way. I think there were a lot of things we had in common which we were unaware of at the time. The fact that neither of us was European." Mehta went on: "But what keeps us together is our love for music, there's no doubt about that, the love for what we are about in this life. We speak on the phone more than we see each other, and we speak about music, musicians, common gossip. Our families have been very close, and his wife is one who plays the piano beautifully and cooks for us; similarly my wife cooks for them."
Mehta's admiration for Barenboim is evident: "This is something very special about him. Even at this sort of semi-advanced age he keeps on learning new pieces. Next year, when we celebrate his 70th birthday, he will play a world première by Elliot Carter written for him. We are curious people! I'm going to do an opera by Janáček in October, also for the first time. We are not satisfied with what we learned in our youth and keep on refurbishing it all the time. This concerto, you learned it in the last two years?" Mehta asked his friend. Barenboim replied: "This one, I learned it this year!" "This year – unbelievable!" Mehta replied.
In this edition of Musica you can hear excerpts from Franz Liszt's Piano Concerto No. 2; and Consolation No. 3.
Barenboim plays Debussy
Europakonzert 2004, Athens