Daniel Barenboim | Biography


Daniel Barenboim
© DG
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“Music can teach you about life, about how to make passion and discipline co-exist.” Daniel Barenboim
Classical music’s power to heal division and challenge ignorance has sustained Daniel Barenboim since early childhood. The pianist and conductor, one of the greatest artists of our time, has achieved the highest distinction as a performer on the world’s leading stages. He has also addressed a wider audience as a champion of the cause of opening minds through culture and an advocate for the mutually dependent arts of deep listening and free dialogue. “To make music, you have to listen,” he has observed. “You have to listen [to] what the other one is doing, but you also have to listen [to] what you are doing and how it affects the other – this is the best school of human relations.”
Listening and responding are central to Daniel Barenboim’s musical life. Already present in the first recordings he made as a pianist in 1955 these skills have become more acute over time. His enormous discography as pianist and conductor spans everything from the complete piano sonatas, concertos and symphonies of Beethoven to works by Boulez and Carter. He signed his first contract with Deutsche Grammophon in 1972, paving the way to landmark recordings with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Christa Ludwig, Pinchas Zukerman, Itzhak Perlman and Jessye Norman, and a sequence of compelling solo piano and orchestral albums. His association with the yellow label resumed in 2010 with a new long-term contract with Decca/Deutsche Grammophon, and received fresh impetus in March 2018 when he signed an exclusive contract with Deutsche Grammophon.
Daniel Barenboim was born in Buenos Aires on 15 November 1942. Both his parents, the children of Russian-Jewish immigrants to Argentina, were musicians and gifted teachers. Daniel studied piano with his father, who remained his only teacher. His love for music deepened when he gave his first public recital at the age of seven and was nourished after the family came to Europe in 1952, en route to a new life in Israel. In Salzburg he began studying conducting with Igor Markevitch, and also met Wilhelm Furtwängler, who declared the eleven-year-old to be “a phenomenon”. He then received a scholarship to study harmony and counterpoint in Paris with Nadia Boulanger in 1955–56. A sensational recital debut at London’s Wigmore Hall, including Beethoven’s “Hammerklavier”, and concerto debuts in Paris (1955) and New York (1957), the latter with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and Leopold Stokowski, confirmed the teenager’s status as a truly exceptional musician.
In the 1960s, Barenboim refined his conducting skills, while simultaneously forging an international reputation as solo pianist and chamber musician. As a conductor he worked notably in partnership with the English Chamber Orchestra, and came to widespread attention in Europe when he conducted the Philharmonia Orchestra in London in 1967, taking over from an indisposed colleague at short notice. That same year he recorded Beethoven’s piano concertos with Otto Klemperer and the New Philharmonia Orchestra, and performed the composer’s cycle of piano sonatas in a series of recitals in London, Tel Aviv and Vienna.
Barenboim’s artistic development was strongly influenced by the experience of making music with, among others, his late wife, the cellist Jacqueline Du Pré, the violinists Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zukerman, and the singers Dame Janet Baker and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. He also absorbed lifelong practical lessons by observing Sir John Barbirolli at work with the Hallé Orchestra. “As far as orchestral sound is concerned,” he recalls, “I learned most of what I know from Barbirolli.”
Daniel Barenboim’s conducting career gained momentum in 1968 when he performed in New York with the London Symphony Orchestra. He soon forged close relationships as guest conductor with the Berlin Philharmonic, London Philharmonic and Chicago Symphony orchestras, and revealed his affinity for opera with a series of Mozart performances at the Edinburgh International Festival, beginning in 1973 with Don Giovanni. He was appointed Music Director of the Orchestre de Paris in 1975, holding the post until 1989 and marking his tenure with a strong commitment to contemporary music by composers such as Berio, Boulez, Dutilleux, Henze, Lutosławski and Takemitsu. Barenboim began a fruitful association with the Deutsche Oper Berlin in 1978; three years later, he made his debut at the Bayreuth Festival with a fresh production of Tristan und Isolde. He returned to Bayreuth for eighteen consecutive summers to conduct Parsifal, Harry Kupfer’s acclaimed new staging of The Ring, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg and Heiner Müller’s innovative new production of Tristan und Isolde.
In 1991 Barenboim succeeded Sir Georg Solti as Music Director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra; in 2006 he was named the orchestra’s “Honorary Conductor for life”. He became General Music Director of Berlin’s Staatsoper Unter den Linden in 1992 and “Chief Conductor for life” of its orchestra, the Berlin Staatskapelle, in 2000. In June 2019 not only was his Staatsoper contract renewed for a further five years, from 2022 to 2027, but he was announced as the first Honorary Conductor of the Berliner Philharmoniker. He also works regularly with the Wiener Philharmoniker, with whom he led the New Year’s Concert in 2009 and 2014. The range of Barenboim’s work is clearly reflected in his relationship with Milan’s Teatro alla Scala. After returning to the illustrious Italian institution as Principal Guest Conductor in 2007, he conducted many acclaimed opera productions, including Guy Cassiers’ new staging of The Ring, brought fresh energy to its chamber music series, and directed the Orchestra Filarmonica della Scala at home and on tour. He became Music Director at La Scala in 2011 and remained with the company until the end of 2014.
Daniel Barenboim’s life was changed by a chance meeting in the early 1990s with Edward Said, the Palestinian-American literary critic and public intellectual. He shared many of Said’s views on the future of the Middle East and supported his call for a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, one based on dialogue, respect and mutual understanding. They became close friends and, in 1999, founded the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, an ensemble comprising young musicians from the Middle East, including Israelis, Palestinians, Egyptians, Syrians, Jordanians and others. “The destinies of [these] people are inextricably linked,” noted Barenboim at the time, “so either we kill each other or we learn to live together.”
The West-Eastern Divan Orchestra has become a symbol of hope and a space for dialogue. It gained a permanent base in Berlin in March 2017 with the opening of the Pierre Boulez Saal, a centre for education through music housed within the Barenboim-Said Academy building. The Academy, which began teaching students in October 2016, was founded by Daniel Barenboim and is set to develop the legacy of his work with the late Edward Said, not least by offering young musicians from the Middle East an education in music and the humanities. Barenboim’s Boulez Saal project, observed Die Welt, stands “against intolerance and oppression” and “for free speech and common values – by questioning, judging anew, and especially by playing and listening together”. Berlin is also home to the Musikkindergarten which Barenboim founded in 2005. He established its guiding motto and mission, “Education through music, not musical education”, and continues to support its team of specialist teachers through regular visits.
Words about music and the civilising force of culture have played an increasingly important part in Daniel Barenboim’s mission as artist and educator. In 2006 he gave the BBC Reith Lectures, exploring the interdependent relationship between music and society. His autobiography A Life in Music heads a bibliography that also includes Parallels and Paradoxes, a series of discussions with Edward Said; Music Quickens Time, a collection of essays marked by what The New Yorker described as their author’s “heroic and hard-won” optimism; Dialogue sur la musique et le théâtre: Tristan et Isolde, co-authored with Patrice Chéreau.
Daniel Barenboim’s work as musician and humanitarian has been recognised with an array of prestigious awards and honours, including the titles of Grand Officier in France’s Légion d’Honneur and Knight Commander of the British Empire (KBE), Germany’s Grosses Verdienstkreuz mit Stern, Spain’s Príncipe de Asturias Prize (shared with Edward Said), Japan’s “Praemium Imperiale” for art and culture, Israel’s Wolf Foundation Arts Prize, the Evangelische Akademie’s Tolerance Prize, the Buber-Rosenzweig Medal, Willy Brandt Prize, Ernst von Siemens Music Prize, Herbert von Karajan Music Prize and the City of Cologne’s Konrad Adenauer Prize. He and the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra were also recently awarded the 2020 Rheingau Music Prize, with the jury praising their “invaluable contribution to cultural education and international integration”.
Barenboim celebrated his 75th birthday in 2017 (Deutsche Grammophon marked the occasion with the release of a 39-CD Anniversary Edition: Daniel Barenboim – The Solo Recordings), but continues to fulfil a busy recording, performing and touring schedule. Other recent Deutsche Grammophon releases include On my New Piano, a selection of works by Scarlatti, Beethoven, Chopin, Wagner and Liszt chosen for his first solo recording on the concert grand he designed with instrument-maker Chris Maene; Bruckner: The Complete Symphonies, with the Berlin Staatskapelle; and Hommage à Boulez, with the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra.
To mark the Debussy centenary Barenboim recorded his personal choice of the composer’s solo piano works, including Estampes, the Suite bergamasque and Book I of the Préludes, for an album released worldwide by DG in January 2018. His recording of the Mozart Piano Quartets, made live at the Pierre Boulez Saal with his son Michael, Yulia Deyneka and Kian Soltani, was released the following August. A month later, DG issued Barenboim’s second recording of the complete Brahms symphonies, this cycle set down with the Staatskapelle Berlin, again at the Pierre Boulez Saal (this time in studio conditions) – the first large-scale orchestral recordings to be made there. A 2-CD album of the complete Mozart Piano Trios, made with his son and Kian Soltani, was released in September 2019 (“The playing is lovely, alert and sensitive.” Limelight Magazine).
Celebrating both the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth and the 20th anniversary of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, an album pairing the Seventh Symphony with the Triple Concerto for piano, violin and cello was released in May 2020. The recordings were made at concerts in Buenos Aires and Berlin, and for the Triple Concerto Barenboim was joined on stage by Anne-Sophie Mutter and Yo-Yo Ma. He followed this by again taking the helm of the Staatskapelle Berlin, conducting Dvorak’s Cello Concerto with soloist Kian Soltani for a recording released in August 2020.
Barenboim then returned to the role of solo pianist for his fifth complete survey of the Beethoven piano sonatas. He recorded the thirty-two-work cycle along with the Diabelli Variations at the Pierre Boulez Saal at the end of a three-month immersion in the scores resulting from the restrictions placed on live music by the coronavirus pandemic. The album is scheduled for release on 30 October 2020.
He has also continued his Beethoven 250 celebrations by recording the composer’s complete piano trios, a project for which he was joined once again by his regular trio collaborators Michael Barenboim and Kian Soltani. The album will be released digitally and as a 3-CD set on 27 November 2020.
Daniel Barenboim began the 2019–20 season by conducting Wagner’s Ring cycle, twice, at the Staatsoper Berlin. Other recent highlights include the Staatsoper’s productions of Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor and Samson et Dalila; West-Eastern Divan anniversary concerts, with Mutter and Ma, in Cologne, Paris and Berlin; performances of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.3 with the Berliner Philharmoniker and Kirill Petrenko; concerts with the Wiener Philharmoniker as part of Mozartwoche 2020; a Beethoven violin sonata cycle with Pinchas Zukerman at the Pierre Boulez Saal; and performances of Carmen at the Staatsoper. In April 2020 he gave several solo and chamber recitals (the latter with Michael Barenboim) at the Pierre Boulez Saal as part of Deutsche Grammophon’s online “Moment Musical” series, while in early June he gave three concerts at the Vienna Musikverein: Mozart’s Piano Concerto in B flat major, K595 with the Wiener Philharmoniker and two solo recitals of Beethoven sonatas. At the Salzburg Festival in August, he gave a Beethoven recital and a concert with the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra.
He launched the 2020–21 season by leading the Staatskapelle Berlin in a four-concert Beethoven symphony cycle. Future plans include Smetana’s Má Vlast with the Berliner Philharmoniker (22–24 October); another Staatskapelle Beethoven symphony cycle at the Paris Philharmonie (6‑8 & 10 November); Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations in recital in Barcelona, Madrid and Milan (1, 3 & 5 December respectively); and Beethoven piano trios with Michael Barenboim and Kian Soltani at the Paris Philharmonie (4 & 5 January 2021), Vienna Musikverein (11 & 12 January) and London’s Southbank Centre (16 & 17 January).
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