The G20’s Harmony Without Trump
MEDELLÍN – O Freunde, nicht diese Töne! (Oh friends, not these sounds!), proclaimed the baritone in the stirring performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony to the G20 leaders in Hamburg last Friday evening. That soul-stirring phrase, the opening line of “Ode to Joy,” Beethoven’s appeal to universal brotherhood, was the perfect message to the global leaders sitting in the concert hall’s balcony. The G20 President, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, actually made remarkable headway in channeling Beethoven’s spirit.
This G20 summit, of course, was the first with Donald Trump as US President. The summit’s discordant tones, echoed in the stormy sections of Beethoven’s symphony, emanated entirely from the United States. Trump has no use for appeals to brotherly love. He traffics in ethnic and religious divisiveness, hostility to neighbors (insisting again at the summit that the US will build a wall on the Mexican border and that Mexico will pay for it), and Manichean images of a Western civilization vulnerable to collapse at the hands of radical Islam, rather than at the height of unimaginable wealth and technological prowess.
While the conductor led the orchestra in a breathtaking performance, the true maestro of the evening was Merkel. What a stroke of genius to bring the G20 leaders to Hamburg’s spectacular new Elbphilharmonie concert hall, itself a triumph of architectural vision, to be inspired by perhaps the greatest musical work of universal culture, with its message of world harmony.