Your Excellency Madam President of the Hellenic Republic,
Honourable Prime Minister,
Distinguished guests, who are honouring us with your presence for yet another year,
Ladies and gentlemen,
On behalf of the Governing Council of the Foundation I am particularly pleased to welcome you to the awarding of the third ‘Empress Theophano’ Pan-European Prize.
We believe that this prize, despite still being in its early days, has already made a clear mark, shining the spotlight brightly on the people, the agencies, and the initiatives of the European and global community that contribute to mutual understanding and cooperation, and deal with the challenges of our times.
After Education and the ERASMUS university student exchange programme, and Science for the Common Good and the pair of leading scientists that developed the first coronavirus vaccine, this year the Empress Theophano Prize is focusing on Art.
Let us take a look around us. We are currently inside a unique example of architectural Art, decorated by masterpieces of mosaic Art. This monument is Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman, and Christian, it is a landmark of the sequence of Culture, as well as of our common history, our common European identity.
This monument housed over the centuries the narrative of different cultures and people; from the Romans of the 4th century A.D., to the refugees of 1922, our compatriots, who found temporary refuge in this very space.
So, it is in the Rotunda that we award convergence through Art as a common ground and a means of mutual understanding that brings people and peoples closer together.
Through renowned Pianist and Maestro Daniel Barenboim, a truly magnificent human, and his creation, the West Eastern Divan Orchestra, we want to highlight the power of Art to function as a mediator and a platform of dialogue for differences that so often cause violence and bloodshed.
With Israeli, Palestinian, and Arab musicians, with concerts at venues ranging from Carnegie Hall and the Salzburg Festival, to Ramallah, the border between North and South Korea, and the UN, the West Eastern Divan Orchestra is a unique alternative Art management model, a sample of global culture, where music builds bridges and takes down obstacles that are considered insurmountable.
Daniel Barenboim, a Jew born in Argentina, a European citizen of the world, and, at the same time, a global legend of classical music, once said: “It is important to find ways for there to be contact between people who disagree, with the hope that in the future there will be some sort of cooperation. What we are doing is not even dialogue. It is the process of one learning to understand and respect the narrative of the other. It sounds small, but it is incredibly important”.
The unexpected and serious health problems that he presented today, for which we wish him a speedy recovery, would not allow him to be with us; however, we do have with us his creation: the West Eastern Divan Orchestra.
His son, exceptional musician Michael Barenboim, who will be receiving the prize on his behalf, as well as the other artists, are the ones who will continue his initiative; they are the people who are turning the maestro’s vision into practice.
Music can affect people more directly and more deeply, it can heal and rehabilitate. As Hans Christian Andersen characteristically put it, “Where words fail, music speaks”. This is exactly the power that music has to approach and highlight a value that is fundamental and necessary for the world today: realising our common humanity.
Daniel Barenboim’s vision for the creation of West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, based on the concepts of equality, cooperation, and justice, has enchanted global audiences, both for its artistic value, as well as for its inherent symbolism, a legacy for world peace and reconciliation.
We need all of this today, more than ever before, in a world that is rapidly changing, with the dark face of violence emerging from many sides.
Daniel Barenboim briefly said: “It is necessary for people to contribute to society in a very individual way. It makes the group much larger than the sum of its parts. Individuality and collectivity must not exclude one another. In reality, together they can enhance human existence”.
I believe that these words of his contain both the meaning of this year’s award, as well as the meaning of the Empress Theophano Prize itself.
And with that guiding us, we intend to proceed.
Your Excellency Madam President, Honourable Prime Minister, my warmest thanks on behalf of all of us for your presence here today and for your continued support of the Empress Theophano Prize.