Daniel Barenboim – Biography

Daniel Barenboim, one of the outstanding musical figures of our time, was born in Buenos Aires to parents of Russian-Jewish descent. He began piano lessons at the age of five with his mother, continued musical studies with his father, and gave his first official concert in Buenos Aires when he was seven. In 1952, the family moved to Israel, and two years later his parents took Daniel to Salzburg to take part in Igor Markevitch’s conducting classes. In 1955 and 1956, he studied harmony and composition with Nadia Boulanger in Paris. 

Following his debut in Vienna and Rome in 1952, Barenboim soon became known as one of the most versatile pianists of his generation. Major debuts followed in Paris (1955), London (1956) and New York (1957), where he performed with Leopold Stokowski. His recording career began in 1954. In the 1960s, he set down the Beethoven concertos with Otto Klemperer, the Brahms concertos with Sir John Barbirolli, and, as both pianist and conductor, all the Mozart with the English Chamber Orchestra. Always active as a chamber musician, he performed most frequently with his late wife, cellist Jacqueline du Pré, and violinists Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zukerman. In song recitals, he has accompanied such artists as Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Dame Janet Baker, Thomas Quasthoff, Anna Netrebko, Jonas Kaufmann and Magdalena Kožená.

From the mid-1960s, Barenboim began to devote more time to conducting. From 1975 to 1989 he was chief conductor of the Orchestre de Paris, with whom he often performed contemporary works by composers such as Lutosławski, Berio, Boulez, Henze, Dutilleux and Takemitsu. In 1973 he made his opera debut at the Edinburgh Festival and in 1981 his debut at the Bayreuth Festival, where over 18 consecutive summers he conducted Tristan und Isolde, Ring, Parsifal and Die Meistersinger. In 1991, he succeeded Solti as music director of the Chicago Symphony and in 2006 was named “honorary conductor for life”. In 1992, he became general music director of Berlin’s Deutsche Staatsoper, and in 2000, the Berlin Staatskapelle appointed him “chief conductor for life”. He also appears regularly with the Berliner Philharmoniker and the Wiener Philharmoniker, with whom he led the 2014 New Year’s Concert. 

In 1999, together with the late Palestinian-born writer and Columbia University professor Edward Said, Barenboim founded the West-Eastern Divan workshop and orchestra, bringing together talented young musicians from Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Tunisia and Israel to make music under the guidance of some of the world’s finest musicians. The workshop seeks to enable dialogue between the various cultures of the Middle East and promote the experience of playing music together. In summer 2005, the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra presented a concert of historic significance in the Palestinian city of Ramallah, which was telecast and recorded for DVD. In summer 2013, the orchestra and Barenboim toured Europe, performing in Lucerne and Salzburg, among other major festivals, and at the Berlin Waldbühne. In summer 2014 they will be giving concerts at the Teatro Colón of Buenos Aires as well as the Salzburg and Lucerne Festivals, including concert performances of Tristan und Isolde. Musicians of the Berlin Staatskapelle have participated as teachers in this project since its inception. Barenboim also initiated a project for music education in the Palestinian territories, which includes a music kindergarten as well as a youth orchestra. 

In 2007, Barenboim began a close relationship with the Teatro alla Scala in Milan, where he conducts opera and concerts as well as playing chamber music. In 2011 he was appointed music director of the legendary Milan institution. Both there and in Berlin, beginning in 2010, he has conducted Guy Cassier’s new staging of the Ring (he also conducted the complete cycle with the Berlin Staatskapelle during the 2013 BBC Proms at London’s Albert Hall). With the Orchestra Filarmonica della Scala his projects have included the Verdi Requiem in Milan and on tour to the Lucerne and Salzburg festivals and the Berlin Philharmonie, as well as at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, where he also conducted Don Giovanni with the Scala forces. 

Other Barenboim appearances in 2013-14 include concerts with the Berlin Staatskapelle in Berlin, St. Petersburg, Dresden, Vienna, Istanbul, at the Enescu Festival in Bucharest and in Armenia; Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera The Tsar’s Bride at La Scala and Berlin, Cosě fan tutte at La Scala; and Wozzeck, Don Giovanni, Il trovatore, Simon Boccanegra and Tannhäuser in Berlin. His solo appearances include performances of the Brahms First Piano Concerto with Sir Simon Rattle and the Berliner Philharmoniker and the Second with Zubin Mehta and the Berlin Staatskapelle plus recitals throughout Germany as well as in Milan and Mallorca. 

For his efforts towards reconciliation in the Middle East as well as his musical achievements, Barenboim has been the recipient of many prizes and honours, among them 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 (jointly 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 and Herbert von Karajan Music Prize.

Barenboim’s books include his autobiography A Life in Music (also published in German, French and Spanish), Parallels and Paradoxes (with Edward Said, also in French), Music Quickens Time (also in French, Italian, German and Spanish), An Orchestra Beyond Borders: Voices of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra (with Elena Cheah), Dialogue sur la musique et le théâtre: Tristan et Isolde (with Patrice Chéreau; also in Italian) and La musica č un tutto (also in French).

Barenboim began his close association with Deutsche Grammophon in 1972. His vast discography on the Yellow Label features the artist as conductor of orchestral repertoire (by composers including Berlioz, Bruckner, Debussy, Elgar, Hindemith, Ravel, Saint-Saëns, Schumann, Tchaikovsky and Wagner) and opera (Cimarosa, Massenet, Saint-Saëns, Tchaikovsky and Wagner) and as pianist in concertos (Beethoven and Berg), chamber music (Brahms and Mozart), song recitals (with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Christa Ludwig, Jessye Norman, Anna Netrebko and Thomas Quasthoff) and solo repertoire (Beethoven, Chopin, Mendelssohn and Schubert). 

In 2010, Daniel Barenboim signed a wide-ranging new contract with Decca/Deutsche Grammophon. DG releases under the new agreement to date include Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony (with the Berlin Staatskapelle), the Chopin Concertos (with Andris Nelsons conducting the Berlin Staatskapelle), the Liszt Concertos (with Pierre Boulez and the Berlin Staatskapelle) and “The Warsaw Recital” (Chopin). Decca has issued the Tchaikovsky “Pathétique” Symphony and Schoenberg’s Variations for Orchestra (with the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra) and a vast project entitled “Beethoven for All”, including the complete cycle of Nine Symphonies with Barenboim conducting the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, released in June 2012, followed in August by another new set containing the Five Piano Concertos, with Barenboim at the keyboard and conducting the Berlin Staatskapelle, and in October by the complete Piano Sonatas. 2013 audio releases included Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique and Liszt’s Les Préludes with the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra and the Verdi Requiem from La Scala (also on DVD and Blu-ray); video releases include Barenboim’s 70th Birthday Concert at the Berlin Philharmonie and the nine Beethoven Symphonies with the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra live from the BBC Proms 2012. Scheduled for 2014: audio releases of Schubert’s complete Piano Sonatas and Elgar’s Second Symphony with the Berlin Staatskapelle; and Berg’s Lulu from Berlin’s Schillertheater released on DVD.

3/2014

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