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BBC Four Classical - Daniel Barenboim

13th November 2002
A transatlantic superstar, one half of the classical music world's most golden ever couple, and long-time leader of two of the world's foremost orchestras, Daniel Barenboim nevertheless maintains a work schedule that takes him all over the world. Both a pianist and conductor, he says simply, "I like to work and I like variety."

Born in Buenos Aires but raised in Israel, Barenboim was the son of two Russian-Jewish piano teachers, and enjoyed a childhood, during which "it never dawned on me that there were people who didn't play".

The Barenboims' young prodigy had performed his first concert by the age of seven, and completed his first world tour at 18. Soon Barenboim came to Europe in search of work and was, by the early 60s, settled in London.

Barenboim is no stranger to controversy, either professional or personal. With his wife, the magically gifted but tragically fated cellist Jacqueline du Pre, Barenboim enjoyed the most celebrated musical marriage of his generation.

But as multiple sclerosis gradually robbed du Pre of her great skills, Barenboim split his life into two. He continued to care for her at weekends, while secretly setting up home in Paris with another pianist, Elena Bashkirova. The couple married after du Pre's death in 1987.

Although Paris afforded the musician his first orchestral director's appointment, it also brought him fresh trauma in 1989. When a new opera house was proposed with Barenboim at the helm, he fell out with the French authorities, and was sacked before making it to the rostrum.

For the last decade, though, Barenboim has been in charge of two prestigious institutions, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Berlin Staatskapelle. He shows no sign of flagging and has taken his influence into the political arena.

Like Yehudi Menuhin before him, Barenboim considers music "an international language" that can cross barriers. He has been reprimanded for performing Hitler's favourite, Wagner, in Israel, but explains that "Wagner wasn't responsible for Auschwitz".

More recently, he has assembled an orchestra from a group of Israeli and Arab musicians. His hope is that "at the same time, at the same volume, with the same stroke of the bow, they find, yes, there is something they can do together".

Daniel Barenboim, with his nomadic history, two families and dual career, has always relied on music as a unifying and healing force. His hope is that for young performers suffering far harsher divisions, it may prove the same.
Further links

Israeli boycott
Israel calls for boycott of Barenboim (BBC News)

The composer calls off a peace concert (BBC News)

Israel and Palestine: autonomous areas
Country profile (BBC News)