Daniel Barenboim received his first piano when he was just five years old and he’s now one of the world’s top pianists and conductors. With a good teacher and a quick search for reviews of cheap piano keyboards, your child might one day follow in his footsteps. You’d be surprised how much of a difference small things like these make.
Music in his early years
Daniel’s parents were both pianists, and as you can imagine, they wanted their child to learn their craft as well. As mentioned earlier, he received his first piano at the age of five. When he was just seven years old, he already debuted as a pianist and quickly made a name for himself in Europe as a child prodigy of said instrument.
By the age of nine, he and his family moved from Argentina to Salzburg, Austria and then to Israel in a span of less than a year. During this time, little Daniel kept practicing and fine-tuning his own style of playing the piano. He later went on to play in London with the Philharmonic Orchestra in 1956 and then in the USA at Carnegie Hall in 1957.
Conducting for peace
In 1962, fairly close to his 20th birthday, he started conducting alongside the Melbourne and Sydney symphonic orchestras in Israel and Australia. He was and still is a firm believer in peace, and as such tried to unite the world through music. His career would continue to flourish as music director of the Paris Orchestra from 1975 all the way up until 1989.
Somewhere during that time, he also signed up to become musical and artistic director of the Bastille Opera in Paris, but the socialist party of France didn’t agree with his world views and dismissed him right before the first season of conduction was about to begin. However, he was accepted as the music director of Chicago’s symphonic orchestra.
In 1991 he would go on to hold his first concerts as music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra – first on an open-air performance and then with an official interpretation of Bruckner Symphony No. 5. This would also be the year where he would publish his first biographical book titled “A Life in Music”.
In 1992 he also became director of the Berlin State Opera, which is outstanding considering the fact that he had to plan out the concerts for both Chicago’s and Germany’s operas. Not an easy task no matter how you try to spin it. During this time he also signs an exclusive recording contract with none other than Warner Classics International.
This would prove to be the busiest decade in Barenboim’s life, as he would compose, conduct, record and play the piano in numerous locations all around the world. Fame and power, however, did not darken Daniel’s mind. He was still a big believer in peace and his main goal remained clear: achieving it through music.
Controversial peace figure
In 1999, Barenboim co-founded the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra with the help of Edward Said – a prominent Palestinian-American literary scholar and political activist. The orchestra featured both Arabic and Jewish musicians, with the main goal of showing that the two could set aside their differences and collaborate to create art.
Although his intentions were pure, he saw quite some backlash from his own people in the Israeli community. In 2001, when performing for the Israel Festival, he chose to play Wagner’s classic “Tristan and Isolde” for the encore. Unless one knows the context, it is very hard to imagine why that would be controversial.
After all, Wagner remains one of the most respected people in classical music worldwide. So, why the controversy? Turns out Wagner’s music was unofficially banned in Israel for two reasons: Wagner himself was antisemitic and he was one of Hitler’s favorite musicians, who allegedly inspired the former to create the Third Reich.
So, why would he knowingly anger his own community? While no clear answer has been given, looking at his track record, one could assume that Barenboim doesn’t care who composed the music, but rather what the music is capable of transmitting. And given the fact that he unified Arabs and Jews in an orchestra, it’s clear that he hopes to unite people through music.
Getting people to talk
One might think that following such a controversy, Daniel’s career would be over, but actually, the exact opposite happened. Daniel is still enjoying a fruitful career to this very day and his antics have actually garnered positive results. Although peace wasn’t achieved in the Middle East, it did get notable figures to have civil discussions.
In 2005, The West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, alongside its now-famous conductor, held a concert of great historic significance in Ramallah, one of the most important Palestinian cities. The concert was televised and later released on DVD. This move enabled more dialogue between the vastly different cultures of the Middle East.
Since then, Barenboim and his orchestra have appeared at festivals in Lucerne and Salzburg, at the BBC’s Proms in London, and have even managed to make their debut in the United Arab Emirates, a country that’s usually not very tolerant toward Jewish people and their culture. And all this without any weapons or threats.
His efforts were finally recognized
Daniel Barenboim received numerous awards both for his musical career and for his efforts of bringing peace in the Middle East. He appeared in Fortune’s Magazine “World’s 50 greatest leaders”, won the titles of Grand Officier in France’s Légion d’Honneur and Knight Commander of the British Empire, only to name a few.
Other countries that granted him awards for his music and peace efforts include Germany, the United Kingdom, Japan, Israel, and Spain. He also won the Evangelical Academy’s Tolerance Prize, the Willy Brandt Prize, Ernst von Siemens, and Herbert von Karajan’s music prizes, as well as the Buber-Rosenzweig Medal.
His unique take on music
It’s hard to imagine what Bach and Beethoven’s opinion would have been about Barenboim’s take on their classical works. Daniel has an interesting way of adding new sounds to otherwise old operas that were not written for newer instruments. A great example of this is his rendition of The Well-Tempered Clavier, where Barenboim frequently uses a right-foot sustaining pedal.
He has stated that trying to stick to reproducing the exact sound of instruments of that era is limiting and often halts musicians’ creativity. When arguing against simple imitation, he gave examples such as Liszt and Busoni with their transcripts and arrangements. If the old creators were free to add and modify, so should new musicians.
But just how much does Barenboim love putting new spins on classical tunes? Well, since 2011 he’d been dreaming of creating a new type of piano, and in 2015 he finally unveiled it for the entire world to admire. It took 18 months and 4000 people to make it, but alas, his dream finally came to fruition.
When it was time to showcase it to a few journalists, he sat down and played 30 seconds of Beethoven’s Appassionata Sonata on a regular Steinway piano and then played the exact 30 seconds of the piece on his new piano. The difference in sound was clear, yet at first, not many people were too thrilled about it.
Why did he love this piano so much?
Because it wasn’t better or worse than other pianos – it was just different. When asked what was so special, he said his new piano had more transparency, clarity and less blend.
It encourages pianists to take a different approach when playing music. The difference in sound is provided by the way the piano is designed. Instead of diagonal-crossed strings, such as you see in contemporary pianos, the Barenboim piano has straight, parallel strings, with the wooden soundboard veins going in different directions.
But how did the idea of making a new piano come to him? Well, it started in 2011, as mentioned earlier. He visited Siena, where he had the opportunity to test out Franz Liszt’s old restored grand piano. Falling in love with the vast difference in sound, he dreamed of building a new piano one day. And as such, we now have the blessing of Barenboim’s refined instrument.
Daniel Barenboim is a prime example of how a single man can change the world for the better. Usually, artists (including musicians) tend to go unnoticed whenever they discuss serious topics. However, Daniel kept refining his craft and making a name for himself until he had too much influence to be ignored.
His story is one that needs to be shared. In a world where the media seems to constantly discuss negative topics, seeing stories such as this one can bring joy to any human who dreams of a better world.
He is still alive and kicking today, and a quick search on the internet will reveal a vast diversity of concerts that will delight any audiophile’s need for good music.
And if you ever feel too insecure to think about leaving a mark on society and history, just remember: Daniel’s story started with a piano at the fragile age of just five years.