Barenboim launches Smetana film with cigar ash on the piano

Barenboim launches Smetana film with cigar ash on the piano


norman lebrecht

September 03, 2017

This is the trailer for a documentary film on Smetana’s Ma Vlast that will premiere in Prague this week with Daniel Barenboim’s participation.

The maestro was so relaxed during filming that he kept an ashtray on the keyboard and a cigar in one hand as he demonstrated the ideal tempi for the Czech national symphonic poem.




  • Andrew Condon says:

    Treating the piano like that shows a surprising lack of respect for the instrument. He should surely know better. It rather reminded me of days, happily long gone, when violinists like Isaac Stern and others were regularly seen with a cigar or cigarette hanging out of the right side of their mouths whilst playing the violin.

  • Petros Linardos says:

    Was there really no other solution to his addiction?

  • Brian says:

    It’s noteworthy that Barenboim smokes the cigar while serving as a teacher and role model to many young musicians. Not good…

    • Anon says:

      Please, we really have bigger problems in this world than an old man’s little joy, a cigar. Get a life.

      • Andrew Condon says:

        The real problem here is that someone who purports to being a world class pianist is treating the tools of his trade with such obvious disdain. I always thought that one of the fundamentals of being a musician was how to care for and look after your instrument, of whatever type. He plainly couldn’t care less. I hope his piano technician doubles his fee when he sees this picture.

    • Harold Lewis says:

      I have no doubt that in many other more significant respects he is an exemplary role model to young musicians generally.

      • Petros Linardos says:

        Indeed, therefore he should take his role as a role model more seriously and show more respect to fundamental rules of conduct.

  • Stephen Cera says:

    “I know of no other nation that has a ‘National Statement Piece’…(like Ma Vlast)”

    I thought Sibelius’s “Finlandia” was such a piece, for Finland…though it’s obviously more compact than “Ma Vlast” !

    • John Borstlap says:

      And there is the Meistersinger prelude of course, which sounds as German as can possibly be, without being ‘teutonic’ because of being classical and baroque.

    • Pianofortissimo says:

      In Sweden we have the “Midsommarvaka” (Swedish Rhapsody Nr. 1), by Hugo Alfvén (1872-1960).

  • Dick Turpin says:

    How can an ash tray and cigar help in deciding on the right tempo for Ma Vlast. Daft, just have a go at it, its just a river mostly.

  • Erik Abbink says:

    Some people here seem to have more respect for a “piano” than for an extremely accomplished musician. And, yes, Barenboim enjoys sigars. But if he does no more harm than enjoying the “wrong” substance, I would say please, give the man a break.
    Get a life folks, it’s shorter than you think.

    • Alan says:

      +1, some of the comments above are absolutely pathetic.

      • Frederick West says:

        +1. Having looked closely there seems to be no combustion anyway. At least he’s got an ashtray…
        All rather prudish comments, the video clip is of more interest anyway.
        I’d be interested to know if it was filmed in his own home, in which case it’s none of anyone’s business if he lights up the odd corona, makes me feel as though I’m in exalted company next time I fire one up.
        And what are these ‘fundamental rules of conduct’? Some sort of behavioural constitution?

  • His blue shirt looks great ~~

  • Sue says:

    I can’t stand Barenboim so nothing he does surprises me.

  • Bruce says:

    A couple of questions come to mind.

    As far as respecting the piano:
    Does he get any ash on the piano? Or stub out his cigar on it? I would think that by this stage in his life, he knows how to smoke a cigar at a piano (and keep an ashtray on it) without getting anything on the piano.

    As far as being a role model for younger people:
    Is anyone likely to start smoking cigars because of this video? If they do, can he really be held responsible for them? I can’t quite convince myself that it’s his fault if anyone is that soft-headed.

  • esfir ross says:

    And what about Arthur Rubinstein with cigar in his mouth?

  • MacroV says:

    I don’t really care about the cigar, though FWIW I believe that scene was shot in Prague or Vienna, in what looks like a museum. Props to Barenboim for taking on Ma Vlast as a project of sorts. I’m not aware that he ever conducted it before, but if I’m not mistaken, over the course of last year he performed it with his Staatskappelle Berlin, also with the VPO in Vienna, before coming to Prague Spring.

    That said, it might have been even more interesting had he conducted the Czech Philharmonic instead of the VPO. But there seems to be a practice at Prague Spring that the Czech Philharmonic plays it in alternate years with a visiting orchestra.

  • BillG says:

    Bertie: “You know Jeeves, with all the trouble and strife in the world, getting the crease in ones trousers to fall just right doesn’t seem that important.”

    Jeeves, “That will soon pass, sir.”