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The Conductor: Daniel Barenboim

Daniel Barenboim, Conductor and Pianist Extraordinaire, Has Two Passions in Life: His Music and His Cigars
Mervyn Rothstein
From the Print Edition:
Arnold Schwarzenegger, Summer 96

(continued from page 1)

For Barenboim, pretty much the only good cigar is a Cuban cigar. "Basically I smoke Hoyos and Cohibas," he says. "I like robustos, and when I have the time I like the Esplendidos. And Especials also. And I smoke the Hoyo Epicure No. 2. The robusto is my favorite. I really love to smoke the Esplendidos, but for that you need a free evening." He has tried other cigars. "There are good cigars from the Dominican Republic and Honduras," he says. "Occasionally, I smoke a Rafael Gonzales. But essentially it's just Hoyos and Cohibas."

A cigar, he says, "is very relaxing. I don't smoke out of nervousness. It's a sensual pleasure. I like the taste. And I like to hold it between my fingers." He likes them best with lunch or dinner. "A meal for me is incomplete without a cigar," he says. "After a good meal, it's essential, especially with coffee. I love good coffee--not American coffee, but espresso--and I think coffee without a cigar is like being dressed in a wonderful suit and shirt and not wearing a tie. The tie belongs there, and so does the cigar."

Cigars, Barenboim believes, can be beneficial to his health. "On the few occasions when I have been overweight and have tried to lose weight, a cigar has helped," he says. "I've never really gone on a diet, but I would try to be careful and skip a meal, usually lunch. So I would have just a salad or fruit, but if I then had coffee and a cigar I could sort of fool myself into thinking I had had a good meal."

Though Barenboim has accomplished much in his long dual career, many goals remain, as both conductor and pianist. As a conductor, he says, Bach is a principal aspiration. "I haven't had time to occupy myself with the Bach Passions. I've never conducted the St. Matthew Passion or the St. John Passion or the B Minor Mass. I would really like to do them, but I don't want to just program them and do them. I need time to prepare them, to study them."

With the piano, he says, the prime mission is to do more. His concert last October at Lincoln Center, as part of its Great Performers series, was a step in that direction. More than 2,000 people packed Avery Fisher Hall to watch him display his expressiveness and his technical virtuosity in a program of Beethoven, Schoenberg and Brahms. He elicited bravos from a tough New York audience for his interpretation of a difficult 12-tone Schoenberg work. After he ended the concert with the Brahms Piano Sonata No. 3, the crowd gave him a standing ovation; he responded with five encores. Only when, amid continuing applause, he smilingly and gently put the top down on the keyboard did the audience grudgingly agree to go home.

It is a love affair between audience and musician, between a man and his music. It is an affair he wants to continue and to expand.

"There's a lot of piano repertory I haven't played," Barenboim says. "When I took the positions with the Chicago Symphony and the Staatsoper, I made a conscious decision to diminish the quantity of my piano playing. It was just not physically possible to do it all. But I miss it. It's essential to me that I find a way to make more time for the piano."

Essential, like a good cigar.

Mervyn Rothstein is an editor at The New York Times and a frequent contributor to Cigar Aficionado and Wine Spectator.


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