Washington Post : World Bank Chief Makes His Birthday Wish Come True + (...) - U2 France
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Washington Post : World Bank Chief Makes His Birthday Wish Come True + Photo

samedi 6 décembre 2003 / par Dom

By Roxanne Roberts

Source : Washington Post

How to get to Carnegie Hall ? Practice, practice . . .

Pish tosh. The best way to get to Carnegie Hall, and the Library of Congress, is to be World Bank President James Wolfensohn, who plays the cello in his spare time and performed in two concerts this week.

The first was Monday night in New York, where Wolfensohn celebrated his 70th birthday on and off the stage with an A-list crowd that included United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Sen. Ted Kennedy. The second — titled "A Peace Concert" — was held last night at the Library of Congress with U2’s Bono, Bill Clinton and Jordan’s King Abdullah.

"This is quite a night," said the Irish musician and international peace activist.

It’s good to be Jim Wolfensohn, no question about it. He runs a global institution with 10,000 employees and doles out $30 billion annually to make the world a better place. A career in investment banking made him personally rich-rich-rich. He’s got friends in high places (last night’s guest list included deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz, Supreme Court Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, ABC’s Ted Koppel, Eunice and Sargent Shriver, and dozens of ambassadors) and, because he loves music, is pals with some of the world’s greatest musical artists.

So Wolfensohn pulled some strings for the evening. Last night’s performers included Bono, cellists Yo-Yo Ma, Cho-Liang Lin and Sharon Robinson, pianist Vladimir Feltsman, violinists Jaime Laredo and Pinchas Zukerman — and the amateur of the bunch, Wolfensohn. "Not a bad group," he said with a chuckle.

He started the musical birthday tradition 20 years ago to keep a promise he made to his cello teacher.

Wolfensohn took up the instrument at the ripe old age of 42. The great cellist Jaqueline du Pre, had just been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis when she agreed to take him on as a student — and at his first lesson, she made him promise to give a concert on his 50th birthday. Since Wolfensohn was then chairman of Carnegie Hall, the venue was a no-brainer, and he surrounded himself with musical friends to cover any off notes. "I was adequate," he said. "In those days, I would not normally have been on the stage of Carnegie Hall."

He repeated the concert 10 years later, and so another for his 70th was a given. He started planning it a year ago, and started practicing in earnest this summer. "I hadn’t played in eight years, since starting at the World Bank," he said. "I’ve had to work pretty hard, but it’s something I love so it’s a gift to myself, too."

For this birthday concert, he wanted to include musicians studying in Spain with Daniel Barenboim (who was married to du Pre, who died in 1987) — young Arabs and Israelis united by their love of music. At this point, the idea for a second evening here took root : "Because I believe you can bring about peace and understanding through music, I thought it would be great to do a peace concert in Washington," he said earlier this week.

Librarian of Congress James Billington jumped at the chance. "He wondered if we’d like to do it, and we said yes for a couple of reasons," Billington said. "The Coolidge Auditorium has been the major venue for chamber music since the 1920s, when it was built, and therefore the idea of this concert seemed like a very attractive function. It was also appealing because we’re a very international library — well over half of the books in the library are not in English."

And so it came to pass : The New York concert Monday (Wolfensohn’s actual birthday) featured music, toasts, 500 family members and friends and Wolfensohn in tears. Last night’s program was the same, with the addition of Bono.

The program began with Mozart’s Quartet for Piano and Strings in G Minor, into which pianist Feltsman managed to sneak a few bars of "Happy Birthday" during the last movement. Next up was Osvaldo Golijov’s "Last Round for String Ensemble," a passionate Argentinian Sharks vs. Jets number that showcased the young musicians. After the ensemble played Mendelssohn’s Octet in E-flat, Op. 20, Bono took to the stage carrying a shopping bag.

He turned and praised all the musicians, then launched into an appeal for peace in his soft Irish accent. "Mostly, we ask politicians to stick to their guns," he told the crowd. "Maybe we shouldn’t. Maybe they should put them down and talk to the enemy." Then he thanked Bill Clinton for his efforts in the Irish peace agreements — and gestured to the door, where the former president, who had just arrived, stood grinning.

Bono then narrated a dramatic version of "September 1913," a lament on Ireland’s noble past by William Butler Yeats, which Bono turned into an antiwar poem by force of personality and 24 musicians providing the flourish. He finished with a tolling bell and a bow for Wolfensohn. "Words are almost superfluous," said Billington, calling it one of the most memorable nights in the library’s history.

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"Fantastic," pronounced Wolfowitz. Feeling peaceful ? "I’m always feeling peaceful."

Guests drifted upstairs for a lavish buffet dinner. Bono and Clinton (surprise, surprise) were surrounded by adoring fans, including many of the young musicians. Wolfensohn stood to one side, looking relieved and very pleased about it all.

"I feel older," he said with a grin. "I may do this annually from now on."

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