“Music can teach you about life, about how to make passion and discipline co-exist"

Daniel Barenboim, August 2016

Daniel Barenboim – Biography

“Music can teach you about life, about how to make passion and discipline co-exist,” Daniel Barenboim, August 2016

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 observed in March 2017. “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; the following year he became General Music Director of Berlin’s Staatsoper Unter den Linden. The Berlin Staatskapelle appointed him “Chief Conductor for life” in 2000, while he was named “Honorary Conductor for life” of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 2006. He also appears regularly with the Berliner Philharmoniker, and 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 recent 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 and Herbert von Karajan Music Prize, among many others.

Barenboim has recently celebrated his 75th birthday, but continues to fulfil a busy recording, performing and touring schedule. His 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 he has recorded his personal choice of the composer’s solo piano works, including Estampes, the Suite bergamasque and Book I of the Préludes. The album was released worldwide by DG on 12 January 2018, and Barenboim performed the Préludes (Book I) at the Paris Philharmonie and Berlin’s Pierre Boulez Saal that same month. Other forthcoming live highlights of this season include performances of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde at the Berlin Staatsoper, and Mahler’s Symphony No.7 with the Wiener Philharmoniker in Leipzig and Berlin (both March 2018); Verdi’s Falstaff and Wagner’s Parsifal as part of the Festtage Berlin at the Berlin Staatsoper (March/April 2018); and chamber-music appearances with Kian Soltani, Michael Barenboim and the Boulez Ensemble at Berlin’s Pierre Boulez Saal (April 2018).