Argentinian-born pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim is a very impressive musician. Not only is he a brilliant pianist, but he has led many of the greatest orchestras throughout the world. In addition, he is an ambassador for human rights. For his achievements both inside and outside of the music world, Barenboim has received numerous awards.
Barenboim was born in 1942 to Jewish-Russian immigrant parents in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Both of his parents played piano and were his only teachers. While he first began piano lessons with his mother, it was his father who continued to teach him.
At the age of 8, Barenboim made his piano debut in Buenos Aires and had the opportunity to observe a conducting class from Igor Markevich. This same year, his family moved to Israel.
Several years later, Barenboim joined Markevich’s conducting class, becoming the youngest member. He also met the influential conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler, who took a special interest in the young boy’s career. Not only did Furtwängler invite Barenboim to sit in on rehearsals of Don Giovanni, but he also requested that he perform with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, exclaiming ‘the eleven-year old Barenboim is a phenomenon’.
From this point on, it was all up-hill for Barenboim. He went to Paris to study with Nadia Boulanger, met conductor Leopold Stokowski and played for pianist Arthur Rubinstein. In addition, he made his Paris debut playing Mozart K271.
Stokowski was quite impressed with the young pianist, inviting him to New York to perform Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto no. 1 in Carnegie Hall with the Symphony of the Air in 1956 or 1957. Around this time, he also performed with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of Dimitri Mitropoulos.
As a pianist, Barenboim is known for his performances of the complete cycle of Beethoven piano sonatas, which he first performed in 1960 in Tel Aviv. Two years after his successful debut as a pianist in Tel Aviv, Barenboim was featured as the conductor of the Israel Philharmonic. He also performed with the Hallé Orchestra under Sir John Barbirolli, who, according to Barenboim, taught him everything he needed to know about orchestral playing.
During the mid- to late-60s, Barenboim performed with the Berlin Philharmonic under Boulez and Furtwängler and the English Chamber Orchestra, which he also conducted. In addition, he recorded Mozart’s Piano Concerto no. 25 and all of the Beethoven piano concertos with the Philharmonia Orchestra and Otto Klemperer. Later, Barenboim would also record the concertos with the London Philharmonic Orchestra and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. With the LSO, he served as conductor with soloist Arthur Rubinstein, while with Berlin, he acted as both pianist and conductor.
Two more important collaborations were formed in the late-1960s, namely with baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and with his wife Jacqueline du Pré, who he met in 1966. Following a successful performance ofWinterreise with Fischer-Dieskau, the two collaborated on many more concerts and recordings. He also performed and recorded frequently with his wife until she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, leading to her early death in 1987.
During the 1970s, Barenboim conducted the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in four concerts and was named Music Director of L’Orchestre de Paris, a post he held from 1975 to 1989. He also began conducting at the Deutsche Oper in Berlin, with operas by Mozart and Wagner. During his decade-plus tenure in Paris, Barenboim showed a preference for contemporary works by performers such as Lutoslawski, Berio, Boulez, Henze, Dutilleux and Takemitsu.
Following a 1980 performance as pianist with the Munich Philharmonic and his debut as a conductor in Bayreuth with a production ofTristan und Isolde, followed by other Wagner operas includingDer Ring des Nibelungen, Barenboim was appointed the successor of Sir Georg Solti as Music Director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra from 1990 to 2006.
Around this time, he also conducted the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and led the Berlin Philharmonic in a performance for the occasion of the tearing down of the Berlin Wall.
In addition to his job in Chicago, Barenboim was also appointed General Music Director of Staatsoper Unter den Linden in 1992, for a period of 10 years. At this time, he also signed an exclusive recording contract with Warner Classics International.
His work with the Staatsoper Berlin included a cycle of Mozart operas along with works from Beethoven, Wagner and Strauss from 1999 to 2003.
Beginning in 2001, Barenboim has been the recipient of numerous awards. To begin with, his recent recordings with the Berliner Staatskapelle of the Beethoven symphonies along withDie Brautwahl from Busoni won the Cannes Classical Award.
More prize-winning recordings have followed, including a Grammy Award (2003) for Wagner’sTannhäuser with Staatskapelle Berlin. Gramophone named him Honoree in their 2012 Hall of Fame.
In 1999, Barenboim became involved in the West-Eastern Divan Project, a workshop for young musicians from the Middle East. In later years, the workshop would take place in many other cities throughout the world and an orchestra would be formed.
Other work with musicians from the Middle East include leading the Palestine Youth Orchestra in its first concert and giving concerts at the Music School in Ramallah. In 2003, Barenboim was awarded the Wolf Prize for his dedication to human rights causes and his determination to bring people together. That same year, Barenboim donated 50,000 US dollars to fund music education projects in both Israel and Ramallah.
Other prizes in regards to his work within the humanities include the Willy-Brandt Prize (2011), the Tolerance Prize from Evangelical Academy in Tutzing and the Freedom Award of Freie Universität Berlin. In 2015, Barenboim opened the Barenboim-Said Akademie in Berlin, which offers degree programs and scholarships in music and humanities to Middle Eastern musicians. He also opened a music kindergarten in Berlin in 2005.
In the last 10 years, Barenboim has had a number of his concerts recorded for DVD release, both as a pianist and conductor. He also gives lectures and has participated in public debates in Brussels.
Barenboim has been awarded far too many prizes to list, some of the most impressive being named Top Man byThe Telegraph (2010), Honorary Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (2010) and one of “The World’s 50 Greatest Leaders” byFortune Magazine (2015). In Chicago, the musicians of the orchestra named him “Honorary Conductor for Life” after his contract ended in 2006. He has also received a number of honorary doctorate degrees.
His most recent projects include his appointment as Music Director at La Scala since 2011, a recording of the complete Beethoven sonatas on the Decca Classics label (2011). He has also premiered several new works recently, including Elliot Carter’sInterventions for Piano and Orchestra in 2008.
Barenboim also performed the first piano recital, consisting of all Liszt works, at the Metropolitan Opera following Vladmir Horowitz. Furthermore, he founded the Peral Music Label “for the thinking ear” in 2014, the same year he completed his recording of the Schubert piano sonatas for Grammophon. Interestingly, with the help of Belgian instrument maker Chris Maene and the support of Steinway & Sons, Barenboim designed a new piano for the Schubert sonatas, featuring parallel strings.
While Barenboim’s career is not yet over, he has already achieved more in his lifetime than many others every have or will. His talent for music and determination to bring people together are truly inspirational.
Images courtesy of Warner and Sheila Rock