This is already the third time I have stood in this Rotunda to attend the presentation of the Theophano Prize. Each time, the Advisory Council that I have the honour to chair has proposed an initiative or people who have shaped the objectives of the Prize. We want to focus on the idea of cooperation and reconciliation in the laureates’ actions and lives. Constructive dialogues between the West and the East of our continent, between the countries bordering the Mediterranean. The opposite of cooperation and reconciliation is war. We thought war was banished from Europe forever, that it belonged to the ‘world of yesterday’, that humanism would remain the soil of our civilisation. It remains so for all the countries of the European Union, the greatest peace project in Europe’s history. Once one leaves the Union’s borders, things are different, however. Peace can only be sustainable if we share values around the uniqueness of each human person, if we respect the internationally recognised borders of each country, if we respect international treaties and laws. Peace is not a pious wish. It must be established on solid human and institutional grounds.
The arts and culture in a broad sense bring out the essentials of human beings. It is about Love and Death, about the transient and the eternal, about the I, the You and the We. In short, about life itself and what makes life great and worth living. Music does this most of all among the arts, it is easiest for all to appreciate. By the way, also the visual arts bridge times and cultures, as you can
see tomorrow in the exhibition of the Belgian artist Jan Vanriet in the Byzantine Museum. Music is about beauty but also about goodness and truth. It appeals to the heart, the imagination and reason. Music carries us away, draws us into the land of sounds that anyone of any country or language can understand. Music also carries a message. An ode to joy, to love, to brotherhood, to overcoming pain and sorrow, to nature, to the homeland, to the simplicity of everyday life. Music drags us along and makes us pause at the same time. I myself have no gift for this. Daniel Barenboim was born and lives in music. Nature has gifted him. But one can also do nothing with the gifts a person discovers in himself. However, he or she can bring it to fruition and let others share what nature has gifted you with. We have that freedom and that possibility. Daniel Barenboim has allowed his immeasurable talent to bear fruit. It became a life at the service of music and fellow human beings. One instrument was not enough to carry out his mission in life. He needed an orchestra. He has been given opportunities at the world’s most famous opera houses and orchestras. He even created an orchestra of his own to convey his message even more clearly. It became the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra. It is about music and cultural exchange, about encounter and dialogue between Palestinians and Israelis especially. Daniel Barenboim has several nationalities but he is above all the holder of a passport issued by Mankind itself. No one denies the milieu of where he or she comes from but always with an open ear, open eye and open heart. Daniel Barenboim is not the man of one language. He speaks many but above all he uses the universal language of music. The great composers of classical music are played and listened to in literally every place on earth. The great performers are welcomed anywhere in the world.
Music too can be used to incite people but that is not its vocation. It should make people more human. Where better to praise humanism than in its spiritual homeland, Greece? Where better to use those words than in this Rotunda whose walls have seen multiple religions and civilisations pass by and who have waited tolerantly to let us hear the voices and sounds of peace, justice, working together and living together. The Theophano Foundation has found a house and a home in the Rotunda. And vice versa. This space should be the home, the temple of peace.
Daniel Barenboim cannot be with us in person tonight. It is unfortunate for us and it is unfortunate for him as the history of two thousand years attends this ceremony. However, we are glad that your son Michael is here to be on your behalf. Sons and daughters are often their parents’ best ambassadors. We have many teachers but only one father and one mother! Since the lock downs, however, we know that technology can still bring us together. Again, there are no limits. Man can overcome space and time. Man can build a lot. He can also, unfortunately, destroy much. The technology, the instrument of the heart and of reason, is music. Your music maestro and those of your orchestra are here. They miss you.
The Theophano Foundation Advisory Council deliberately chose arts and culture as the domain in which we would seek this year’s laureate. It was once said that Europe is, or should be, built on culture. Europe has many cultures. Over the centuries and after many tragedies, also in this country, the common base has become the love of the human person. Music is highly inter-cultural and multi-cultural. The great composers -so many of whom are Europeans- transcend the differences between peoples and languages. Daniel Barenboim’s life and work are the perfect illustration of this. The world watched nine months ago when you once again gave the most famous concert on earth, on New Year’s Day in Vienna.
For all these reasons, we want to honour you here in the presence of the President of the Hellenic Republic and of the Prime Minister of Greece, that is pre-eminently the cradle of our culture. We wish you a speedy recovery and, one day, a reunion in the good city of Thessaloniki on the shores of the Mediterranean that you hold so dear and that should unite us.