The heavyweight of classical music – DW – 15/11/2022


Daniel Barenboim was eager to celebrate his birthday on November 15 with musical fireworks, but his health does not allow it. His state of health forced him to cancel a concert on his 80th birthday, the press service of the Staatsoper Berlin said.

Together with his old friend, Indian conductor Zubin Mehta, Barenboim wanted to perform an overture by Richard Wagner as well as piano concerts by Ludwig van Beethoven and Chopin, with Mehta as conductor. Barenboim himself wanted to play the piano, but that would have to wait until later.

Always moving

At the beginning of October, Barenboim revealed on social networks that a “serious neurological disease” forced him to take a step back. “I now have to focus as much as possible on my physical well-being,” he wrote on Twitter.

Taking this step must not have been easy for a classical music conductor as in demand as Barenboim. He is used to traveling the world for his concerts as a pianist and conductor, and has received numerous awards for his engagement with the world of music and beyond.

“He has always lived five lives at the same time: as a conductor, as a pianist, as an initiator of projects like the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, as a father and as a personality artistic world,” said Managing Director Matthias Schulz. in a statement from Berlin’s Staatsoper Unter den Linden.

A photo of Daniel Barenboim looking at the camera.
Barenboim looks back on an exceptional careerImage: Annette Riedl/dpa/picture alliance

Barenboim and his orchestra

Barenboim founded the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra in 1999 with Palestinian-American literary theorist Edward Said, who died in 2003. Both wanted a peaceful solution to the Middle East crisis.

The ensemble brings together musicians from Israel and other Arab countries. In 2016, Barenboim founded the Barenboim-Said Academy, which trains young Middle Eastern musicians in music and the humanities.

A musical childhood

Barenboim’s Jewish grandparents came from Belarus and Ukraine. They fled anti-Semitic pogroms to Argentina in the early 20th century, the conductor told the audience in March 2022 at a Staatskapelle concert for Ukrainian refugees.

Conductors Daniel Barenboim and Zubin Mehta join forces
Barenboim has bonded with many other big names in music, such as bandleader Zubin MehtaPicture: picture alliance / Maurizio Gambarini/dpa

Barenboim was born on November 15, 1942 in Buenos Aires. His father started giving him piano lessons when he was five, and two years later the conductor gave his own concert. “Music has always been a source of joy for me, never a duty,” he wrote in the weekly Zeit about his childhood.

In 1952 his family moved to Israel, in part because his father wanted Barenboim to be introduced to European music. Masters of contemporary music of the time, including pianist Arthur Rubinstein and conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler, were fascinated by the talent of the young pianist.

Furtwängler became a role model for Barenboim. Speaking about the conductor in the DW documentary, “Music under the Swastika,” Barenboim said the conductor’s music had a “freedom of tempo” and gave listeners the feeling that he was composing while conducting. .

Daniel Barenboim at the piano in 1954.
Barenboim, pictured here in 1954, was a piano prodigy Image: Imago/United Archives International

An exceptional talent

Barenboim was soon considered an exceptional talent. As a young man, he studied in Rome at the academy of pianist and music teacher Carlo Zecci. At 15 he played with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and five years later conducted the London Symphony Orchestra in New York – the world was his oyster.

Whether it’s the Orchester de Paris, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra or La Scala in Milan, Barenboim does not stop. He is as welcome at the annual Salzburg Music Festival as he is with the Philharmonic Orchestras of Berlin and Vienna. At the Bayreuth Festival, he regularly conducts Wagner’s operas, and in 2020, conducts “The Ring of the Nibelung” reinterpreted by Harry Kupfer.

For his 80th birthday, Barenboim had planned to conduct Wagner’s Ring Cycle with the Staatskapelle Berlin, but was only able to conduct the first three parts. The last performance was conducted by Christian Thielemann.

A terrible child

Daniel Barenboim is a musician with all his heart, but the conductor is also interested in social and political issues, as evidenced by his writings, his lectures and his appearances at concerts. He, for example, praised the courage of Ukrainians and spoke of the COVID-19 pandemic as a chance for more social interaction.

Daniel Barenboim conducts an orchestra in 1991 in Argentina.
During his career, Barenboim has conducted many of the greatest orchestras in the worldImage: United Archives/Image Alliance

Naturally, his attitude towards certain issues is controversial.

In 2001 there was heavy criticism in Israel after Barenboim played Wagner’s music in an encore after a concert with the Staatskapelle Berlin. The 19th-century composer was known to be anti-Semitic and also wrote inflammatory lyrics targeting Jews, which is why his music is not welcome in Israel.

In 2004, Barenboim caused a scandal by criticizing the occupation of Palestinian territories by Israel.

Complaints have also been brought against him. In 2019, former employees of the Berlin Staatsoper complained to online magazine Van about Barenboim’s conversational tone and authoritarian style. Barenboim disagreed with the accusations and saw the episode as a background to his contract discussions for the position of Staatsoper manager, which were taking place at the time. In the meantime, his contract has been extended until 2027.

A photo of Daniel Barenboim at the Staatsoper theater in Berlin.
Daniel Barenboim holds Argentinian, Spanish and Israeli passports and has been an honorary Palestinian citizen since January 2008.Image: Bernd von Jutrczenka/dpa/picture alliance

Barenboim is unable to celebrate his birthday, but others do for him. The Staatsoper Unter den Linden publishes photos on social networks and the television channel Arte celebrates it with a series of concerts and documentations.

On November 15, Deutsche Grammophon releases a new recording of Robert Schumann’s four symphonies that Barenboim conducted with the Staatskapelle Berlin.

In the meantime, the conductor and musician hopes he will get better soon. In his post on Twitter, he writes: “Music has always been and continues to be an essential and enduring part of my life. I’ve lived my whole life in and through music…Looking back and forward, I’m not just happy, but deeply fulfilled.”

This article has been translated from German.


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