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Daniel Barenboim

The musician Daniel Barenboim (born 1942) was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina; his parents were Russian Jews. He is now an Israeli national. Barenboim came to fame as a pianist but is now best-known as a conductor. In 2001, he sparked a controversy in Israel by conducting the music of Wagner there.


Barenboim started piano lessons at the age of five with his mother, continuing to study with his father who remained his only teacher. In August 1950, when he was only seven years old, he gave his first formal concert in Buenos Aires.

In 1952, the Barenboim family moved to Israel. Two years later, in the summer of 1954, his parents brought him to Salzburg to take part in Igor Markevich's conducting classes. During that summer he also met and played for Wilhelm Furtwängler. In 1955 he studied harmony and composition with Nadia Boulanger in Paris.

Barenboim made his debut as a pianist in Vienna and Rome in 1952, Paris in 1955, London in 1956 and New York in 1957 under the baton of Leopold Stokowski. Regular concert tours of Europe, the United States, South America, Australia and the Far East followed thereafter.

Barenboim made his first recording in 1954, and later recorded complete cycles of the piano sonatas of Mozart and Beethoven and concertos by Mozart (as both conductor and pianist), Beethoven (with Otto Klemperer), Brahms (with John Barbirolli) and Bartók (with Pierre Boulez).

Following his debut as a conductor with the Philharmonia Orchestra in London in 1967, Barenboim was invited to conduct by many European and American symphony orchestras. Between 1975 and 1989 he was Music Director of the Orchestre de Paris, where he conducted much contemporary music.

Barenboim made his opera conducting debut in 1973 with a performance of Mozart's Don Giovanni at the Edinburgh Festival. He made his debut at Bayreuth in 1981, conducting there regularly until 1999.

Barenboim is currently the music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, a position he took up in 1991, following in the footsteps of Georg Solti. He is also general music director of the Deutsche Staatsoper, Berlin, a position which he has held since 1992.

He was married to the British cellist Jacqueline du Pré, a gifted musician whose career was tragically cut short by multiple sclerosis.

Conducting Wagner in Israel

On July 7, 2001, Barenboim led the Berlin Staatskapelle in part of Wagner's opera Tristan and Isolde at the Israel Festival in Jerusalem. The concert sparked an outcry, with Barenboim being branded as a fascist by some Israelis. Wagner's music has been taboo in Israel, because Adolf Hitler's theories of racial purity and extermination of Jews drew partly from anti-Semitic writings by Wagner, his favorite composer. In Nazi Germany, his music was used for Nazi propaganda purposes and was played in the concentration camps.

Barenboim had originally been scheduled to perform the first act of Die Walkürie with three singers, including tenor Placido Domingo. However, strong protests by Holocaust survivors as well as the Israeli government led the festival authorities to ask for an alternative program.

Barenboim agreed to substitute the offending piece with music of Schumann and Stravinsky, but expressed regret at the decision. Still, at the end of the concert, he declared that he would play Wagner as an encore and invited those who objected to leave.

Most of the audience responded with load applause, but a small, vocal minority expressed their disapproval. Barenboim spent a half-hour speaking to the audience in Hebrew, explaining his rationale behind playing the piece and appealing to the protestors to let the music be heard.

Barenboim said he had decided to defy the taboo on Wagner when a news conference he held the previous week was interrupted by the ringing of a mobile phone to the tune of Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries. "I thought if it can be heard on the ring of a telephone, why can't it be played in a concert hall?" he explained.

Palestinian sympathies

Barenboim is a vociferous critic of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, saying his adopted homeland is "losing its moral capital [by] fighting against the identity of a people." In an interview with British music critic Norman Lebrecht in 2003, he accused the Israeli government of behaving in a manner which was "morally abhorrent and strategically wrong" and "putting in danger the very existence of the state of Israel." [1]

As a gesture of solidarity with the Palestinians, Barenboim has given performances in the Occupied Territories, in particular on the West Bank.

In 1999, Barenboim jointly founded the West-East Divan Orchestra with the Palestine-American writer and activist Edward Said, who was a close friend. It is an initiative to bring together every summer a groupe of talented young classical musicians from Israel and Arab countries. Barenboim and Said were among the recipients of the 2002 Prince of Asturias Awards for their work in "improving understanding between nations."

Barenboim wrote a book together with Said, Parallels and Paradoxes based on a series of public discussions held at New York's Carnegie Hall.

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