The horrendous attacks on Paris last week, the second time in less than a year, hit me hard. I consider myself lucky: but for a last minute change of plans, whisking me away from Paris, I would have spent Friday evening, November 13th, in the small neighborhood where the attacks took place, and may have been witness to some of these events directly. Several of my friends were in the area and although none were hurt, all were shaken. My friends and I all know someone who lost friends or family, and we are all still taking stock of this.
Paris is my hometown. I am happy to be here visiting at this difficult time, seeing this great city face this horror with courage and grit. It is heartwarming to be around family and friends who live and work in Paris, to discuss these events, to share our pain, frustration, and hope.
What is somewhat unique about the Paris case is the targets of the attacks: a soccer stadium, a very popular concert hall, bars and restaurants. All are places of entertainment, of culture, of sharing. They are the most innocent targets: not government buildings, not infrastructure, not symbols of power. They are just places where people get together to enjoy life after work, and people from all walks of life and from all backgrounds are represented in these places. People like you and like me.
I was in Washington, DC on September 11th, 2001, just a couple of miles away from the Pentagon which was also attacked along with the World Trade Center in New York. It was a scary time then too: people stayed at home for days, in fear of another attack. All of us felt powerless and overwhelmed by the events. It was then that I started developing the concept that would lead to the International Beethoven Project a few years later.
My idea was to leverage the power of art and music to help bring about a more peaceful world, building bridges between people of all cultures, and creating points of access and understanding. Beethoven wanted the same thing in his time, and serves as IBP’s inspiration for that reason: throughout his life he expressed this desire to see the world fill with light (the Promethean fire) and love (the brotherhood of humanity).
This idealism, lofty as it is, requires courage, faith, and perseverance from all of us. Culture, art and entertainment are all critical components of civilisation, and expressions of our common humanity. It is not a meaningless act to go out to a restaurant, to a concert, to a game. These things represent us, and we must support them more than ever. Go out, enjoy yourselves, make new friends, learn about new things. This is an important contribution all of us can make when our way of life is attacked. We must live in joy, not fear.
We will dedicate Beethoven’s Birthday concert on December 16th to the memory of those who perished in Paris and all other innocent victims of this war around the world, dead or injured. A birthday is a time to come together in celebration of life, and that is what we will do, all together, with music, art, light and love.
I needed to find comfort after the attacks last week in Paris, and spent some time watching and listening to Beethoven’s immortal message of peace and brotherhood, in a rousing performance of the 9th Symphony with its unforgettable Ode to Joy, conducted by Leonard Bernstein and joined by hundreds of participants, including, appropriately, members of the Orchestre de Paris, on the occasion of the fall of the Wall in Berlin in 1989. Turn it on now, or soon, and let yourself sink into this beautiful music, of and for humanity.
I hope to see you on December 16th. Send a thought or a message on social media if you can’t make it, to share this moment in some way.