“What can be learned from music for life”

Daniel Barenboim, honorary member of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna, is also celebrating his 80th birthday with a whole series of concerts at the Musikverein. Six concerts, with works from Beethoven to Boulez and from Mozart to Manoury reflect the unique spectrum of a universal musical personality. And what’s more, they invite you to follow Daniel Barenboim’s vision: that you can learn from music for life.

One of the most important and versatile artistic personalities of our time celebrates his 80th birthday on 15 November, 2022: Daniel Barenboim is a musical universalist at heart. As a globally acclaimed conductor and pianist, he has enriched musical life for many decades, and as an orchestra founder, initiator of visionary projects and cultural-political ambassador, he is involved in world affairs. He founded pioneering educational institutions, such as the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra and the Barenboim-Said Akademie in Berlin, commented on social and political issues and was involved in musical projects in the Middle East. “I was given a certain fame,” he once commented on his role as advocate and fighter in the interests of art. “I’ve been on stage for seventy years and people are still willing to spend money to hear me. What should I do with it? Stand in front of the mirror and say to myself: I’m world famous? No. This fame is a gift for me and such a gift gives responsibility. Today, we don’t even talk about responsibility anymore. But that’s so important.”

If, like the young Barenboim, you learn to play the piano long before you have a clue about life and give your first public concert at the age of seven, you have different antennae for “what can be learned from music for life” – as Barenboim’s pedagogical motto goes. For example, says Barenboim, one can learn something about “how passion and discipline can be reconciled.” To make music, you have to listen, Barenboim explains. “You have to hear what the other person is doing, but you also have to hear what you are doing and what it means to the other person – this is the best school for human relationships.”

Born in Buenos Aires in 1942, he began his career as a pianistic prodigy in an environment steeped in music. Both parents are pianists and teachers. At that time, Argentina was one of the richest countries in the world. At the magnificent Teatro Colón, the great artists shake hands: Richard Strauss and Igor Stravinsky, Erich Kleiber, Arturo Toscanini and Wilhelm Furtwängler, Anna Pavlova and Vaslav Nijinsky, Caruso and Callas. Little Barenboim experienced almost all of them. At the age of eleven, he sat in Furtwängler’s rehearsals for “Don Giovanni” in Salzburg, was allowed to play for him and received a knighthood from him. Furtwängler’s letter of recommendation provided the impetus for an unparalleled international career, which Barenboim embarked on as a pianist during his studies with Nadja Boulanger in Paris, and soon afterwards also succeeded as a conductor. After stints with the Orchestre de Paris and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, he has been General Music Director of the Berlin State Opera since 1992 and Chief Conductor of the Staatskapelle Berlin, which appointed him Chief Conductor for life in 2000. In addition, there is probably no major festival or world-class orchestra in which he has not made a guest appearance.

Barenboim has a long and profound history with Vienna as a city of music. “Vienna was the first European city where I played as a child,” he explains. “That’s what makes the concerts here particularly important to me emotionally. I was nine years old when I performed in Vienna for the first time, that was at the Konzerthaus. Even as a child, Vienna was something extraordinary for me and it always has been. The Musikverein has one of the most beautiful halls in the world. There’s something magical about it.”

“Music is closely linked to life and a true musician must be immersed in life. This idea is one of the essential foundations of my thoughts and actions.”

Daniel Barenboim

The six concerts, in which the jubilarian will perform at the Musikverein in the 2022/23 season, exemplify the versatility of his work. In addition to music by Brahms and Beethoven, the concert of the Vienna Philharmonic features Arnold Schönberg’s orchestral variations op. 31, which is a work on the programme for which Barenboim has repeatedly campaigned in a special way for decades. Hardly any piece pushes the idea of a wealth of musical relationships further than this twelve-tone composition with its hyper-constructive interlocking of an explosive, even eccentric expressive context. Just how directly passion and discipline can be connected cannot be experienced more succinctly than in this music. As a soloist in the concert of the Staatskapelle Berlin, the great Martha Argerich, a long-time musical partner of Barenboim’s and at the same time his childhood friend from Buenos Aires, can be experienced.

It is not surprising that Barenboim feels a special bond with Beethoven. After all, this composer, like no other, offers him a model for the indissoluble interweaving of art and life that drives him as an artist. “Beethoven is a symbol of what art is,” explains Barenboim. “In Beethoven’s time, music was an organic part of culture. We know what he read and studied, how he got involved in politics. The music was directly connected to it, every note in Beethoven’s works is part of a humanistic message.” Today, on the other hand, this mindset has gone out of fashion: “You can be a cultural person today without listening to a single note of music.” The anniversary year 2020 offered him the opportunity to immerse himself in the Beethoven cosmos once again. Barenboim has already performed the symphonies and piano sonatas at the Musikverein. Now, with the trio he founded in 2016, which includes his son, violinist Michael Barenboim, and cellist Kian Soltani, he presents all of Beethoven’s piano trios on two evenings.

“Music is closely linked to life and a true musician must be immersed in life. This idea is one of the essential foundations of my thoughts and actions,” Barenboim proclaimed in the “Manifesto” of the Barenboim-Said Akademie in Berlin, which was founded in 2016 and combines musical-artistic and humanities content in a special way. In addition to Barenboim, it was named after the American-Palestinian literary critic Edward Said, who died in 2003, with whom Barenboim also founded the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra in 1999. Founded as an experiment, this orchestra, in which Jewish Israelis play side by side with musicians from the Arab world, has long since outgrown its infancy and is one of the internationally sought-after orchestras. The centerpiece and highlight of the academy is now the elliptical Pierre Boulez Hall, designed by the American architect Frank Gehry. This modular chamber music hall is the musical home of the Boulez Ensemble, which plays in changing line-ups and consists mainly of members of the Staatskapelle Berlin and the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra.

A concert with the Boulez Ensemble and one with renowned performers and lecturers from the Academy reflect the young, future-oriented spirit of this new music institution in the heart of Berlin. At the same time, they commemorate the composer and conductor Pierre Boulez, who died in 2016 and who had a deep artistic friendship with Barenboim, dating back to 1964. Mark Andre’s work for clarinet and electronics “… blessed are …” is dedicated to the composer, clarinetist and professor of the Barenboim-Said Akademie, Jörg Widmann. The soloist in Boulez’s “Anthèmes II” for violin and live electronics is Michael Barenboim, who also serves as professor and dean at the Academy.

Daniel Barenboim’s versatility and seemingly inexhaustible energy never cease to amaze. However, Barenboim stubbornly denies being a workaholic: “There are people who think that I constantly force myself to work, but that’s not true at all,” he explains: “Music is simply the most important part of my life.”

Text by Julia Spinola.

Musikverein Wien, red carpet, staircase to the Großer Musikvereinssaal and Brahms Saal

In Focus 2022/23

Artist portraits, a special cycle with Christian Thielemann and the focus on the composer Mark Andre can be found here as well as our festival which will take place this season under the title “Beethoven’s Medicine Spoon”. But there is much more to discover.

Musikverein Wien, interior, Großer Musikvereinssaal, Golden Hall, architecture, organ, rows of seats, seating, ceiling painting

Special cycle: Christian Thielemann

For more than 20 years, Christian Thielemann’s performances have been undisputed highlights at the Musikverein. In 2022/23, the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna will devote a separate cycle to him.

Musikverein Wien, interior, Großer Musikvereinssaal, Golden Hall, architecture, organ, rows of seats, seating, ceiling painting

Composer in Focus: Mark Andre

In a comprehensive portrait dedicated by the Musikverein to the German-French composer, this can be experienced in a wide range of works – from miniatures for solo instruments to chamber music and large orchestral works.