Daniel Barenboim: Former Child Prodigy And The Greatest Artist Of All Time

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

The pianist and conductor, one of the greatest artists of our time, Daniel Barenboim has achieved the highest distinction as a performer on the world’s leading stages. He addresses 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. Also, he is the Current general music director of Berlin State Opera and the Staatskapelle Berlin. 

Early life

Daniel Barenboim was born in Buenos Aires.

Daniel Barenboim was born in Buenos Aires on 15 November 1942. His parents were Jewish Russian immigrants who were musicians and gifted teachers.

He started piano lessons with his mother and continued to study with his father, who remained his only other teacher. But his love for music deepened after he gave his first public recital at the age of seven in Vienna. The love nourished after the family came to Europe in 1952, en route to a new life in Israel. 

In Salzburg, he became the youngest member of Igor Markevich’s conducting masterclasses. Barenboim met Wilhelm Furtwängler, who invites him to attend his rehearsals of Don Giovanni. Wilhelm also performed with him and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. Furtwängler also declared, “the eleven-year-old Barenboim is a phenomenon …” which helped the young pianist quickly establish himself. He then received a scholarship to study harmony and counterpoint in Paris with Nadia Boulanger in 1955–56.

Rise as a great pianist

A sensational recital debut at London’s Wigmore Hall, including Beethoven’s “Hammerklavier”, 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. Simultaneously, he forged an international reputation as a solo pianist and chamber musician. As a conductor, he worked notably in partnership with the English Chamber Orchestra. Barenboim garnered widespread attention when he conducted the Philharmonia Orchestra in London in 1967, taking over from an indisposed colleague. That same year he recorded Beethoven’s piano concertos with Otto Klemperer and the New Philharmonia Orchestra. He performed the composer’s cycle of piano sonatas in a series of recitals in London, Tel Aviv, and Vienna.

In 1966, he met Jacqueline du Pré in London. They married in Jerusalem in 1967, during the Six-Day War. They also performed and recorded together years until Ms. du Pré diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. She died, in London, in 1987.

A glance at his glorious success

He worked with several orchestra after his career gained momentum in 1968.

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 Orchestra, and Chicago Symphony Orchestra

He revealed his affinity for opera with Mozart performances at the Edinburgh International Festival, beginning in 1973 with Don Giovanni. The renowned composer presided as Music Director of the Orchestre de Paris in 1975, holding the post until 1989. Barenboim began a fruitful association with the Deutsche Opera Berlin in 1978. Three years later, he made his debut at the Bayreuth Festival with a new production of Tristan und Isolde. 

In 1991 Barenboim succeeded Sir Georg Solti as Music Director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. He became the orchestra’s “Honorary Conductor for life”. Daniel became General Music Director of Berlin’s Staatsoper Unter den Linden in 1992. Also became “Chief Conductor for life” of its orchestra, the Berlin Staatskapelle, in 2000. In June 2019, his Staatsoper contract renewed for a further five years, from 2022 to 2027. Berliner Philharmoniker announced him as their first Honorary Conductor . He also works regularly with the Vienna Philharmoniker, with whom he led the New Year’s Concert in 2009 and 2014. After returning to the Milan’s Teatro Alla Scala as Principal Guest Conductor in 2007, he conducted many acclaimed opera productions. He became Music Director at La Scala in 2011 and remained with the company until 2014.

Life altering experience in Daniel Barenboim’s life

Daniel Barenboim’s life altered by meeting in the early 1990s with Edward Said, the Palestinian-American literary critic and public intellectual. In 1999, they established the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, an ensemble comprising young musicians from every place in globe. His autobiography A Life in Music heads a bibliography that includes a series of discussions with Edward Said.

The West-Eastern Divan Orchestra gained a permanent base in Berlin in 2017 with the opening of the Pierre Boulez Saal. The Barenboim-Said Academy began teaching students in October 2016, will develop his work with the late Edward Said. 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,” supports its specialist teachers through regular visits.

Awards and honors

Barenboim’s work as a musician and humanitarian has been recognized with an array of prestigious awards and honors.

AwardAwarded by
Grand Officer, Légion d’HonneurFrance
Knight Commander of the British Empire (KBE)Britain
Grosses Verdienstkreuz SternGermany
Príncipe de Asturias Prize (shared with Edward Said)Spain
Praemium ImperialeJapan
Wolf Foundation Arts PrizeIsrael
Tolerance PrizeEvangelische Akademie
Buber-Rosenzweig MedalDKR; German Coordinating Council of Societies for Christian-Jewish Cooperation
Willy Brandt PrizeNorwegian-German Willy Brandt prize foundation
Ernst von Siemens Music PrizeBavarian Academy of Fine Arts
Herbert von Karajan Music Prize Festspielhaus Baden-Baden
Konrad Adenauer PrizeHumboldt Foundation
Rheingau Music PrizeRheingau Music Festival
Awards won by Daniel Barenboim

Present work

Daniel Barenboim with his first wife, Jaqueline du Pré, in the 1970s.

To mark the Debussy centenary, Barenboim recorded his solo piano works for an album released worldwide by DG. His recording of the Mozart Piano Quartets made life at the Pierre Boulez Saal released the following August. A month later, DG issued Barenboim’s second recording of the complete Brahms symphonies. The Pierre Boulez Saal was the first large-scale orchestral recordings. A 2-CD album of the complete Mozart Piano Trios, made with his son and Kian Soltani, released in September 2019.

Celebrating the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth and 20th anniversary of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, he conducted an album. The recordings made at concerts in Buenos Aires and Berlin, and for the Triple Concerto. Barenboim collaborated on stage with Anne-Sophie Mutter and Yo-Yo Ma. Then he took the helm of the Staatskapelle Berlin, conducting Dvorak’s Cello Concerto for a recording released in August 2020.

Recent highlights of his life

Daniel Barenboim is still making records and conducting tours.

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 and the Diabelli Variations at the Pierre Boulez Saal. At the end of a three-month immersion, he recorded following the restrictions placed on live music in the coronavirus pandemic. The album released on 30 October 2020.

He continued Beethoven 250 celebrations by recording the composer’s complete piano trios and collaborated with Michael Barenboim and Kian Soltani. The album will release 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, West-Eastern Divan anniversary concerts, Cologne, Paris, and Berlin. He performed Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.3 with the Berliner Philharmoniker and Kirill Petrenko. Barenboim did many concerts with the Wiener Philharmoniker as part of Mozartwoche 2020.

In April 2020, he gave several solo and chamber recitals at the Pierre Boulez Saal. In early June, he gave three concerts at the Vienna Musikverein, Vienna 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.

Also read: Brandon Quintin Adams: Former Child Prodigy and Renowned Child Actor

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