Happy Birthday, Daniel Barenboim!

Marking the 75th birthday of the pianist, conductor and long-time friend of the Berliner Philharmoniker

(Photo: Peter Adamik)

On 15 November 2017, Daniel Barenboim celebrates his 75th birthday. To describe him as one of our great conductors and pianists does not do him justice: Barenboim is a universal musician – someone who wants to understand the greatness of his art in its entirety, and who places music, which has the power to connect both people and peoples, at the service of his humanitarian ideals. This aim is most visible is in the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, founded by him and the literary scholar Edward Said, which consists equally of Israeli and Arab musicians. But Barenboim has also left his mark on the great, venerable institutions of classical music: the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Bayreuth Festival, La Scala in Milan and, of course, the Staatsoper Unter den Linden Berlin, where he has been in charge for a quarter of a century. Barenboim also enjoys a genuine friendship with the Berliner Philharmoniker – and has done so for over five decades.

Friend of the Berliner Philharmoniker for 53 years

On 12 June 1964, the then 21-year-old pianist appeared with the orchestra for the first time as the soloist in Béla Bartók’s Piano Concerto No. 1. The event was reported in the press rather fleetingly because the reviewers focused their attention on Pierre Boulez, who was making his debut conducting one of his own works that evening. Nevertheless, they bore witness to Daniel Barenboim’s great technical mastery. “Whether he is more than just a good technician, he would have to show in other music,” wrote one critic. This opportunity soon presented itself. Only a few months later, Barenboim played Wilhelm Furtwängler’s Symphonic Concerto for Piano and Orchestra in B minor under the baton of Zubin Mehta, on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the death of the composer and conductor. The intensity of his playing and the heartfelt expression delighted both the audience and press alike. Barenboim, who admired Furtwängler from an early age, feels a special connection to him to this day. Furtwängler had heard him a decade earlier and had invited the talented boy to perform in Berlin. But Barenboim’s father refused – on the grounds that a Jewish family could not come to Germany just nine years after the end of the Second World War.

A dual talent: pianist and conductor

Right from the start, Daniel Barenboim loved the way the Berliner Philharmoniker played: “The incredible warmth in the strings with a vibrancy I had never heard before,” he said in an interview with 128 – the Berliner Philharmoniker Magazine. “They didn’t yet have the solo characteristic they have today through their great soloist personalities.” Daniel Barenboim made his mark not only as a pianist but also as a conductor. In 1969 he first led the Berliner Philharmoniker, conducting Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No. 95 in C minor, Schumann’s Fourth Symphony and Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto with Sir Clifford Curzon as the soloist. An event that caused a sensation and made it clear what great musical potential he had in him. But there was more: From 1976, audiences of the Philharmoniker also experienced Daniel Barenboim on several occasions in the dual role of conductor and soloist. The then 33-year-old performed Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor and Anton Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony. One review described how he was no mere time beater, rather he followed in the grand tradition of the dynamic designer who creates freely using expressive gestures.

Emotional concert events

As a pianist, he has appeared in concert programmes of the Philharmoniker with the concertos of Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms. As a conductor, he has programmed works from Johann Sebastian Bach to Pierre Boulez. However, his focus is on the Classical and Romantic repertoire: Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Strauss and, on several occasions, Bruckner. Two highly emotional events stand out in the long fruitful collaboration between Daniel Barenboim and the Berliner Philharmoniker: the special concert he conducted on 12 November 1989, after the fall of the Berlin Wall for GDR citizens, and the orchestra’s first Israel tour in 1990, during which he accompanied the Philharmoniker as a conductor. On 18 June 2014, Daniel Barenboim and the Berliner Philharmoniker celebrated their 50th anniversary with a special concert, with Barenboim as the soloist in Johannes Brahms’ First Piano Concerto conducted by Sir Simon Rattle. This season too, in February 2018, Barenboim will be a guest of the orchestra – as the soloist in Bartók’s First Piano Concerto, the work with which he made his debut with the orchestra. A circle closes.

1964: Daniel Barenboim made his debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker as pianist
(Photo: Archiv Berliner Philharmoniker)
The conductor 1971
(Photo: Reinhard Friedrich)
1989: Concert on the occasion of the fall of the Berlin Wall
(Photo: Reinhard Friedrich)
In rehearsal
(Photo: Ludwig Schirmer)
2014: Applause after the concert, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the work together
(Photo: Monika Rittershaus)