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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 2)

"I don't feel that because of having been active as a musician when I was a child I have missed out on anything," he says. "I feel I had a perfectly normal childhood. I went to school like everybody else. I always had friends of my own age. I think this is very important. The main problems of child prodigies are that they don't go to school very often and therefore don't learn how to live with other people early on. They don't get the necessary social climate around them and they also don't have friends of their own age. They live in an adult's life when they are children, and this is not very healthy."

Barenboim also realized from an early age that he wanted to conduct. His father taught him to play the piano with "the orchestra always in mind, with an emphasis on polyphonic listening and playing."

"I was in Salzburg when I was 9, and I went to watch the conductor's class," he recalls. "I was absolutely fascinated by the different sounds of the different instruments. And of course, the piano is also a very orchestral instrument, more so than a string or a wind instrument."

In his early 20s, Barenboim began to devote more time to conducting, and spent a decade with the English Chamber Orchestra. From 1975 to 1989, he was the music director of the Orchestre de Paris, devoting much time to contemporary works, especially those of Lutoslawski, Berio, Boulez, Henze and Dutilleux. In recent years, he has toured with the Berlin and Vienna philharmonics. He first conducted opera at the Edinburgh Festival in 1972 and has led performances of Wagner's "Tristan und Isolde," "Parsifal" and "The Ring Cycle" at the Bayreuth Festival since 1981.

His one cultural contretemps came in the late 1980s. In 1987, a conservative French government named him the first music director of the Bastille Opera, but two years later, before the new opera house had even opened, the new socialist government fired him.

Barenboim says he has no regrets over the ouster, especially since political changes have continued to trouble the Paris opera house. "In a way, it was a good thing it came to a clash so early on," he says, "because it would not have worked. You can see that nothing has happened there. They haven't solved their problems."

Only two weeks after the ouster, Barenboim had the last laugh when he was named the ninth music director of the Chicago Symphony, an orchestra with which he had had a long relationship as both conductor--since 1970--and soloist. He took over in Chicago in 1991, and soon after, took on the Deutsche Staatsoper, which critics say he has revitalized and which is playing to sold-out houses almost every night.

Throughout his years of conducting, Barenboim has maintained his solo career; he has also been extremely active as a chamber musician, performing often with such renowned string players as Itzhak Perlman, Pinchas Zukerman and Isaac Stern. One of Barenboim's most frequent musical partners was his first wife, the late, great English cellist Jacqueline DuPré. He and DuPré met in 1966 at a party in London, where they played Brahms together; they married the next year. In 1971, DuPré, considered one of the finest cellists of her day, was stricken with multiple sclerosis. She spent the next 16 years in a valiant battle against the disease and died in October 1987 at age 42. Several years ago, Barenboim married Russian pianist Elena Bashkirova; they have two sons.

For many, a dual career as pianist and conductor would be overwhelming, with the time spent at one taking away from proficiency at the other. But to Barenboim, the careers are complementary. "They are similar in the sense that it is all about making music," he says. "They are different in that as a conductor you don't have the physical contact with sound you have when you play an instrument. But they complement each other because, through the experience of conducting, I have learned to listen to myself while I play as if I were removed. I listen to myself like I listen to the orchestra when I stand in front of the musicians. I think I am able to correct and change and develop my playing in a way I would not have been able to do had I not been a conductor. And the piano playing complements the conducting because it constantly gives me not only the feeling but the preoccupation with the physical qualities of sound.

"People forget that sound is not just a question of color; it's also a question of weight," he adds. "Sound has weight. And therefore, in the balance of the orchestra, in solving the problems of the balance of volume and weight, I know I have developed as a conductor in a certain way only because I have continued to play the piano."

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