Daniel Barenboim and the climate of fear

Daniel Barenboim and the climate of fear


norman lebrecht

February 06, 2019

The latest iconoclastic investigation by VAN magazine contains much that is discussed openly among musicians but has never before found its way into print.

For instance:

In musical circles, Barenboim’s temper is legendary. He has thrown fits because a violist rolled his eyes, because a singer bowed in the wrong place, because a favored principal player was on vacation. He once berated a musician who lacked concentration because someone in their immediate family had died. He has insulted a doctor who said that a performer with a stomach flu was too sick to play. On at least two occasions, he has allegedly grabbed and shaken members of his staff in anger. 


“I always say it’s a climate of fear,” said a current employee at the Staatsoper. Barenboim was raised at a time when being authoritarian was practically in the job description for a conductor. At the beginning of his tenure, the concentration of power in his hands was productive, allowing him to effectively reshape the large institution. Now, Barenboim is always on the minds of his staff, whether he’s actually in the house or not. “You can always feel when he’s here, because everyone is tense all of a sudden,” said a player in the Staatskapelle orchestra academy. When he’s away, the orchestra is less on edge, “as if it needed to take a few deep breaths and relax.” As several sources told VAN independently, Barenboim expects staff to visit his green room and praise him after performances. Those who don’t risk falling out of favor. 

In at least one instance, current artistic director Matthias Schulz met with Barenboim and an employee to discuss an instance of physical aggression, and declined to take concrete action, a source claimed. (The source was able to describe the situation in detail.)

The article is by Jeffrey Arlo Brown and Hartmut Welscher.

Read the full article here.


  • Clovis Marques says:

    Barenboim is the only musician I EVER saw actively and ostentatiously show his contempt for the audience, in my forty something years of concert going. And with a vengeance, a really really bad temper and disposition. This was in Rio de Janeiro way back in the eighties. There were late arrivals disturbing the music making (it was the Orchestre de Paris). He had just began, he stopped, he sent furious looks to the parterre and he started again from scratch. “You oafs there should know better hu…”

    Then at the end there was this infallible and odious patron of the Teatro Municipal who always wanted to cheer and applaud before everyone else and always insisted on very explicit and showy terms to have some extra numbers. He’s known among Rio concert goers as “Maravilha” or “Sublime” (Mr Wonderful or Mr Sublime), for the words he invariably ejects in that magic moment when the music has not yet died away completely and the rest of us have not yet come back from wonderment. That’s exactly the moment this individual wants to hear his own voice. (I must admit to his good taste: it’s one of the best moments ever!).

    Well, when he was at it, begging Barenboim for more, more, pleeeeeaase, the maestro again convoked his hate look and this time peppered it with ugly arm and face gestures imitating this person, and then head-cocking and chin-throwing to signify his contempt for such inconvenience and bad manners. Never in my whole life seen any other artist behave like that on a stage

    • Adam says:

      Music and arts reflect society (or at least should perhaps?) and so-much has changed in the last generation.

      Deference, authority, class structure have all ebbed away, or at least morphed.

      Barenboim is a first rate musician – no doubt, beyond debate, but I recall less and less music making that is memorable or really tasteful in the last 15 years. He seems to do everything, (musically) but nothing uniquely – rather like a sort of very high-class Gergiev.

      Thinking of another unpleasant man (a well known English baroque specialist) I simply ask this – what will remain that is pleasurable or useful to the world when they have shuffled off this mortal coil? The answer is 1) Recordings 2) Writings, 3) Teaching.

      And when they have all evaporated like water on a sunny pavement, no-one will even care about their self involved insecurity.

      The world moves-on and they are terrified they might miss the last bus. Pity them, don’t venerate them.

      • Max says:

        I’m sorry, but regarding Gardiner, I think you’re completely wrong.
        There are countless recordings of absolutely genuine interpretations (St. John’s Passion, Brahms Requiem!!, Mendelssohn Symphonies), that are and will be influencing musicians and especially conductors around the world.
        As for Barenboim: what he created at the Staatsoper will never be forgotten as well. His interpretations will be…

        • Adam says:

          Thats precisely what I said.

          What lasts is recordings and the tradition. I.e. manifest by example and teaching. We agree! The liar, cheat, adulterer, thief and braggard are just dissolved. Whether that is just or even desirable is for history to judge.

          • Sibylle Luise says:

            I didn’t know that connubial fidelity is important for a musician. And I didn’t know it’s judged in a debate about his professional behavior.

          • Constanze says:

            It’s kind of galling for the people who have been hurt and humiliated by a ‘great man’s’ bad behaviour – whether he’s needlessly bullying them in rehearsal, or by cheating on them in a marriage – to see the ‘great man’ venerated by those who don’t realise (or believe) the pain he’s caused.

            Or, critics and members of the public then excusing crimes and abuse because of the ‘great man’s’ genius. This happened when Robert King emerged from prison – and some people complained that his prison sentence had deprived them of enjoyable concert experiences. Never mind the young children he scarred….

        • Sue Sonata Form says:

          A fellow I know has a daughter who sang with JEG’s ensemble and he recounted recently how rude he had been to her in front of absolutely everybody. You’ve got to be tough to withstand this, but she simply went out a fixed what he said was wrong and was returned some time later for another gig.

          Some melt like snowflakes, the others develop chops and say, “yeah, it’s tough out there but I’m in it for keeps and willing to take the, er, advice”. There are certain ideologues who want every little seam and crease of unpleasantness removed, especially for them.

        • Anon says:

          Gardiner is an absolute bully to his musicians. At least Baremboim is a genius, not a charlatan. But both men are appalling to work with. I know.

          • Tristan says:

            Bersntein was a genius, Barenboim was a fabulous pianist but never a great conductor. Still waiting to hear all his other stories…..I hope though one wouldn’t ruin him like James Levine who was a great conductor

      • Nick says:

        Barenboim’s musical “greatness” is highly debatable. The only thing that might not be debatable is his memory. But this has nothing to do with musical greatness. His aims and character are not debatable unfortunately. He is a pathetic, ill-mannered individual with disrespect to all, colleagues and public alike.

        • BrianB says:

          Furtwängler may have been Barenboim’s idol but apparently not his role model. I’ve never heard that he behaved such a way, other flaws not withstanding.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      It’s precisely this kind of arrogance and hubris which causes him to lecture an entire nation on what it should do about its neighbours. These staggeringly hypocritical virtue-signallers think we’re not onto them!! I disliked him years ago, when Jacqui was terribly ill.

    • BrianB says:

      Tommy Beecham was legendary for rebuking audiences collectively and even individually (“Shut up, you!”) and usually entirely justifiably. I don’t blame Barenboim a bit for expressing contempt for such oafs as you described.

      • Girl from Ipanema says:

        Neither do I! I am actually really glad that he gave this idiot what he deserved. As a civilized Brazilian who just cannot stand the behaviour of most of our concertgoers (including the supposedly elegant and cultured ones!), I feel revenged!

      • Saxon Broken says:

        Yes, but Tommy Beecham did it with some charm and a twinkle in his eye.

    • Plush says:


  • Pianofortissimo says:

    The sheep, united, don’t need the dog anymore.

    • Esther Cavett says:

      What was that thing a few years ago at London Proms where Ring was done. During applause he was seen shouting at the concert master and jabbing his fingers in a nasty way – then storming petulantly off. Anybody know more ?

      • Sue Sonata Form says:

        What about the famous piece of videotape where Kleiber is despairing in Vienna conducting ‘Der Rosenkavalier” and talking to the concertmaster!! If I had been there I would have rushed up to him afterwards and put my arms around him!! Oh yes.:-)

      • Anon. says:

        Yes. But it stays unsaid in public.

      • Edward says:

        I was there – he was unhappy with the first violins I believe, and the poor concertmaster got the brunt of it (if I remember correctly, in Act 1, with Barenboim storming off at the interval). I assume all was made up by the end though, as Barenboim gave a generous laudatory speech to the entire audience praising said concertmaster who was retiring after that cycle. This isn’t all that unusual – I’ve seen his temper flare at live concerts, especially at his page turners(!) – the guy expects (his view of) perfection – it’s quite uncompromising. Question is whether that leads to better music making (and even if it does, whether it’s acceptable)? There’s no shortage of musicians lining up to play for him…

  • We privatize your value says:

    And, like other vain, violent, and intolerant men, he is intent on resolving the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians by virtue of his… peacefulness and patience? It’s called hypocrisy.

    • Paul Brownsey says:

      Still, it’s a jolly good thing he’s trying to do something about the Israel/Palestinian conflict, isn’t it?

      And if it is hypocrisy, do you think he should give up his work over the Israel/Palestinian conflict so as to remove himself from your charge?

      And is he really guilty of hypocrisy? Or is it merely not carrying over his good principles into all the arenas of his life?

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      You’d have to be intelligent enough to understand that, of course, and most on the Left don’t ever get it. Sadly for us all.

    • Nick says:

      He has no intent of solving anything. His aim is SELF PROMOTION at any cost, even at the cost of Jewish lives lost. Connecting with antisemites serves no peace purpose. Barenboim is always for himself ONLY.

    • Hilary says:

      “It’s called hypocrisy”

      No, It’s called complexity. People are awash with apparent contradictions.

  • Cohiba says:

    Barenboim obviously suffers from a narcissistic personality disorder. My suspicion is that his small body size is troubling him.
    (I have known Barenboim for 25 years, but never worked for him. But every time I went backstage the fear of his stuff was obvious. By the way, he has a very good sense of humour. You better laugh when he looks at you.)

    • Paul Brownsey says:

      “Barenboim obviously suffers from a narcissistic personality disorder. ”

      I am perpetually surprised at the number of posters with psychiatric expertise and their eagerness to diagnose psychiatric disorders from a few scraps of online news.

      How many chapters of that little book on How To Be A Spiffing Psychiatrist have you read already?

      • Tamino says:

        You do not need to have much expertise. In classical music, you could fire one shot blindfold on a stage, and chances are you kill five people with NPD with one bullet…. 😉
        Seriously, it’s more the norm than the exception in the classical music biz.
        Or look at it that way: who would torture himself all his youth mastering a task of highest difficulty, to then go out on stage and play your heart out in front of hundreds of strangers?

      • steven holloway says:

        Very well said, Paul. What also surprises me is the number of people, e.g., Cohiba and Anon, who claim to have worked under/with Barenboim. With such screen names, one can only wonder, especially given that DB is an anathema to certain relentless commenters on this site.

    • We privatize your value says:

      If am being charitable, I think he has suffered greatly from the loss of his wife and musical partner, Jacqueline du Pré. That, and too much success and flattery too soon, would make anyone slightly unhinged.

      • Steve says:

        I don’t think “slightly unhinged” from death of a loved one warrants being constantly physically aggressive towards others…

      • Dennis says:

        I don’t think you can blame his personality on reactions to the death of du Pre, especially given that for many years of her 15 year battle with MS it was a marriage in name only.

        Barenboim had been in a long-term relationship with another women, and had kids with her many years before du Pre died, and though he refused to legally divorce du Pre, he married the other woman not long after du Pre’s death.

        Doesn’t sound like a distraught and suffering widower to me.

      • Emil says:

        Given that he started a long-term affair and had two children while Du Pré was still alive (he had the great generosity of spirit to hide it from her, apparently), I think we can skip the distraught-husband-ever-grieving-the-loss-of-the-love-of-his-life posturing.

        • Sibylle Luise says:

          Falling in love with someone doesn’t mean you stop loving (or at least liking) your former partner.
          I’m divorced and newly married, but nevertheless I care a great deal for my first husband and I’ll certainly grieve when he dies (he’s 25 years my senior, so I suppose he’ll die before me).

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      Sorry, Cohiba, you have to HAVE a personality to suffer from that disorder!!! 🙂

  • Gerhart says:

    We saw examples of the maestro’s temper at Bayreuth rehearsals. They would come without warning and blood pressure would raise. I am so pleased this story is coming out.

  • Mark Hildrew says:

    ==On at least two occasions, he has allegedly grabbed and shaken members of his staff in anger.

    Haha – he’s a tiny little man. One day somebody will fight back. Thanks so much for posting this – it’s very thought provoking. I predict there will be a lot of replies to this thread.

  • David Topliffe says:

    I had heard that his recent problems with gout made Barenboim rather bad tempered. Regularly complaining and frustrated about having to cut down wine drinking. He needs to slow down a bit. Take a tip from Carlos Kleiber

  • Zacharias Galaviz Guerra says:

    Nearly all great conductors have shared this stern disposition. When an instrumentalist rolls their eyes in sarcasm or the musicians aren’t focused (something necessary and expected, purely professionally) the music will suffer, without a doubt. A conductor’s job must include “whipping the votes!” Dissent in the concert hall is destructive.

    Maestro Barenboim is not malicious. He is akin to Maestro Claudio Arrau in the sense that “he is uncompromising and most serious as an artist.” I myself become furious with loud and obnoxious audience goers, as this is ludicrous and the music deserves much more reverence than that – “silence in between the notes,” let’s not forget. Image clapping in between movements of Mozart’s Concerto 23, or Brahms’ Symphony 1. Ridiculous.

    Also, let us not forget that Maestro Barenboim is also a kind person who cares for his musicians, especially off the podium. The rest of this article is very subjective and essentially libel and defamatory in an era where everything must be “politically correct.”

    I understand why a stern Maestro is often necessary to preserve the integrity of the music. The greats prove this.

    • Grace says:

      “Nearly all great conductors have shared this stern disposition.”

      They do that by choice.

      I have been a professional chorister for a long time, and have sung under many talented, eminent directors.

      One chorus in which I sang had, in its fourth decade, gotten rather sloppy. A new artistic director (the ensemble’s 2nd in 43 years!) brought immediate discipline to the ensemble; he raised the artistic standard, exacted personal and professional responsibility, and did not tolerate anything but excellence. Every last singer adored this person, because he did all this with grace, professionalism, and respect for every musician. Not one single person resigned from the ensemble, and every single musician chose to re-audition when the time came. There was abundant respect flowing in each direction. This director devoted himself to the music and, though he had a healthy and normal ego (necessary in a good leader), he never let it take control and never, ever, let anything become personal.

      My point is that it is possible to be demanding and expect the utmost from the ensemble without being a godawful jerk.

    • Marc says:

      Barenboim is undoubtedly a gifted musician and has given memorable performances and made memorable recordings, but it is curious that he is so demanding of others but not always of himself. He’s well known for spreading himself too thin and giving unprepared performances. When I have heard him in concert as a solo pianist he has clearly been unprepared (virtually sight reading in some cases). His pursuit of excellence in orchestral performance is admirable, but, since he frequently falls short of this goal as a soloist, I would expect him to pursue his aims with a little more humility and grace.

  • deadtired says:

    A known cantankerous old man is revealed to be…. a cantankerous old man. Color me shocked!

    • deadtired says:

      Can’t help but feel that this is a cheap “me too” type grab at someone whose worst sin seems to be posessing a stereotypically perfectionist disposition with the temperament that goes along with that kind of thing.

      • amy m. says:

        You might not say that if you were at the receiving end of that sort of cantankery. Musicians and staff get very tired of the tantrums of the ‘gifted’.

        • Constanze says:

          Quite right. The idea that a conductor must have explosions of temper and temperament to achieve anything is a notion that does few people in the orchestra any good. OK, if you do something wrong, make a tiny mistake, then with some conductors you can expect a rebuke. But when a conductor develops a personal vendetta (and it does happen) against a musician, the atmosphere is horrible. It’s not necessary.

  • Hartmuth Wunzenbontzen says:

    It appears from the original article that Barenboim derives his power from his ability to snap his fingers at the German federal government and gets € hundreds of millions, even as thousands of homeless subsist on the streets of Berlin and €millions are squandered on illegal migrants.
    What political influence does he wield, which card does he play? Being “a personal friend of Angel Merkel” would in any case make him effectively part of the current leftist-collectivist government cartel.

    • Saxon Broken says:

      Merkel is a member of the Christian Democrats. The party is on the right and believes in a Christian ideology (hence the name). Neither socialist nor atheist.

  • David Geffen Hall says:

    I have played for him on several occasions and have not experienced anything but a desire for making great music and setting a very high standard.

    Not sure if his temper is any different or worse than others like Muti, Toscanini, or Szell.

    As someone else has commented, Barenboim was hatched in the last era of the Tyrants but his experiences in London esp with the English Chamber Orchestra softened him.

    His behavior with staff may be different than with his musicians.

  • Steve says:

    This story definitely needed to come out. I honestly had no idea because he seems to be (generally) loved in Chicago by the musicians, though I’ve heard he’s polarized the orchestra at times. This type of behavior shouldn’t be at all tolerated, regardless of how ‘great’ of a musician he is. There are plenty of other maestri (just take Muti for example) who, in my opinion, give better interpretations than Barenboim (e.g. Barenboim’s most recent performances in Chicago were pretty subpar), and are much nicer and more reasonable than Barenboim is. I hope that this article reaches Barenboim and he takes a good look at himself in the mirror…

    • Clovis Marques says:

      He won’t take a look at the mirror. Cause perdue

    • Mick the Knife says:

      Laughable comment. Really, what would he care about this article? He is King of the Hill and appears to answer to no one.

    • sam says:

      Well, if Barenboim isn’t as “hot tempered” as Reiner and Solti were, maybe he is liked by Chicago musicians.

      • Tristan says:

        please no comparison with great Fritz Reiner – Barenboim was never great

      • Quintus Beckmesser says:

        Solti was never “hot tempered” in Chicago. At Covent Garden, on the other hand, he had to work with musicians who had come out of cinema orchestras or brass bands – and he was younger and less tolerant.

        • Saxon Broken says:

          Solti built the ROH into one of the top opera houses. And the musicians in the pit mostly liked him, recognizing how he improved their playing.

  • Norbert says:

    It’s no secret, Muti has had his temper in the past but never with allegations of physicality, or sexual impropriety with chorus members (or even the members of chorus members as it were…!)….BUT he always has his own aesthetic and the learning to illuminate it.

    All the singers I know who worked for him, (very hard) in serious Salzburg roles etc, worshipped him and his teaching. His Verdi and Mozart are totally indisputably his and uniquely so. I can tell he’s conducting when I switch on the radio.

    Though not perfect – of course, he’s a great guy – great musician. The real deal. A very different personality and world-view from Barenboim.

    • Steve says:

      Fully agree. Muti’s temper was definitely more of a problem in his younger years, but he has mellowed out quite a bit and today, is quite personable (and humorous) with staff, musicians, and fans. Nothing compared with Barenboim.

  • phf655 says:

    It’s now a hazy memory, but I recall that at his first-ever appearance as a conductor in New York, in about 1970, he walked off the stage shortly after his first entrance because the audience had not completely settled into their seats. I don’t remember what was on the program, but Ashkanazy was the soloist, and I think the orchestra was the Philharmonia. He returned several minutes later. It seemed a rather audacious act from a man who was still in his twenties at the time – conductors of such a tender age were more rare at that time than now.
    Barenboim is an enormously talented man who has never completely convinced me as a conductor. In his younger years he used to talk about emulating Furtwangler, but it seemed that he was applying a set of techniques and mannerisms from the outside that he didn’t actually feel.
    More recently, performances sound ill-prepared and under-rehearsed. Given his enormous talent, it is probably easy for him to deliver a satisfactory, though rarely great, result, with minimal effort. And his full schedule is no help here. This is what I sensed, as did another commenter, at his Ma Vlast in Chicago in November. Coming just two days after Haitink’s last Chicago appearance, the contrast seemed even greater.

    • Steve says:

      Definitely agree with your assessment. Yes, I was at both Haitink’s and Barenboim’s recent Chicago concerts, and the difference could not have been greater. It seemed to me that week, from the interactions between orchestra, audience, and conductor, that the all of the orchestra/audience really respected Haitink, as he is a truly beloved figure for them all, but at Barenboim’s concerts, the reception wasn’t as warm. And I’m not even talking about the music (which is a whole other story…)! There are of course a number of musicians in the CSO who seem to fawn over Barenboim (a little too much in my opinion), but hopefully this article helps to reshape everyone’s views…

      • Petros Linardos says:

        I have heard Barenboim live several times – conducting from the podium or the piano, playing the piano. To my ears his performances can be anything from mediocre to truly memorable. No doubt he can notice that , if he is honest with himself. Shouldn’t he therefore be more tolerant of other people’s off moments?

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      I’ve listened to a lot of his Beethoven Piano Sonatas and, honestly, they’ve NEVER moved me. I’m unsure why.

  • Miriam K says:

    He was nasty to a cellist in his Divan orch (in front of everybody) for taking too many sips of water during rehearsals on a very hot day.

  • John Kelly says:

    I am fairly confident similar articles could have been written about other conductors in the past (or even the present). It’s the sort of journalism that seems to appeal to SD readers (some)…. Great conductor doing terrific things, indispensible even, but nasty guy who does nasty things or acts out and is horrible to work for/with. (Toscanini, Szell, Horenstein and Reiner also spring to mind). My own experience as a listener is as follows – I heard Barenboim recently in Paris with the Berlin Orchestra in an all Debussy program. Sensational in every way. He applauded the players with the audience at the end of two of the three pieces. Vigorously. Deserved. I never saw him do that with the CSO. But I did hear excellent programs in Chicago (a memorable Act 3 of Parsifal, a stunning Eulenspiegel). I heard him give a piano recital at Carnegie where he gave about 10 encores afterwards – incredibly generous. He may not be affable and witty, or easygoing with players in the way Munch and Kubelik reputedly were (both got fabulous results in concert in spite of dubious levels of rehearsal). But he is an important musician who has done important things. He might not be my favorite conductor (he isn’t) or even in my Top 10 living conductors (he isn’t) but I am disappointed that this article seems intent on picking holes in his personal reputation based on hearsay and scuttlebutt. I gather many Fortune 500 CEOs (perhaps the business equivalent of the great conductors) are not exactly jovial, saintly and enjoyable characters to work for or be around……

    • Anon says:

      ‘hearsay and scuttlebutt’ – would you describe your own experiences and opinions with these words? Or just other people’s?

  • Doug says:

    So, you’re saying he’s a horrible person with no empathy and lacking any good judgement. But when he mouths the right platitudes and slogans when it comes to “migrants” and so-called “Palestinians” we fawn all over him and hail him as a brave genius. Now do you see why Michael Savage always says “liberalism is a mental disorder”?

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      I completely agree; it’s the 21st century pathology. Each time I hear their naive gushings I actually feel sorry for them – and sorrier for the rest of us -grounded, practical and realistic people who understand what life is really like.

    • barry guerrero says:

      So, you’re saying Trump’s a horrible person with no empathy and lacking good judgement. But when he mouths the right platitudes and slogans when it comes to “building a wall” and “making America great again”, we fawn all over him and hail him as a brave genius. Now do you see why liberalism, conservative-ism, libertarian-ism, communism, any “ism” of your choice, could be a mental disorder. So can no ‘isms’.

  • Esther Cavett says:

    From the Evening Standard in 2013
    “Barenboim also made a point of thanking his concertmaster (leader), Wolf-Dieter Batzdorf, whose last performance it was with the orchestra after a career of forty years. Barenboim’s encomium was all the more poignant as he had delivered a furious reprimand to Batzdorf after the second act of Die Walküre on Tuesday night, in full view of the Promenaders. This, evidently, was Barenboim’s way of making amends. “

  • sdg says:

    In my experience he’s not actually very good.

  • RW2013 says:

    I’ve seen DB take a swipe at a page turner and continuing to humiliate him for the rest of the concert.
    But then we forgive him for getting lost in a Mozart concerto, or stopping playing to start again…

  • Nick2 says:

    Back in the 1970s before Barenboim had conducted opera, his Svengali Peter Diamand was Director of the Edinburgh Festival. He arranged a series of Mozart operas, a different one every 2 years, to be conducted by Barenboim with the ECO and a variety of mostly stellar soloists. Unfortunately Diamand selected poor directors and neither Giovanni (1973/4) nor Figaro (1975/6) were a success, although the subsequent recordings had their merits.

    What was unavoidable for everyone who attended was the actual presence of Barenboim. The small King’s Theatre had no orchestra pit and so the orchestra was at stalls level. It is perfectly usual for a discreet narrow focus spotlight to be on an opera conductor so he is clearly seen by the cast. Barenboim had two very bright spotlights so their beams were very clearly seen criss-crossing the auditorium, even during the dark scenes where they all but killed the atmosphere. It was clear he was supposed to be the star of the evenings.

    In one way it was fortunate that the cycle was thereafter discontinued, for Diamand then persuaded Berganza to make her debut as Carmen in a Faggioni/Frigerio production with Domingo, Krause, Freni (at the premiere), Abbado and the LSO that was to become legendary and is still available on CD today.

    • Robert Roy says:

      Sorry to contradict you, Nick, but the King’s Theatre in Edinburgh does have an orchestra pit which can be adjusted to accommodate a full Wagner Opera or a smaller ‘band’. I can only presume that having the Orchestra at Stalls level was Barenboim’s choice. It would have greatly reduced the seating in the stalls!

      • Nick2 says:

        Apologies if i got that wrong. The orchestra may have been below audience level but I recall Barenboim was pretty much in full view. However, it was all roughly 45 years ago and my memory may not be accurate. What I do remember clearly were the two bright spotlights!

        • Robert Roy says:

          Hi Nick. I don’t disbelieve that the conductor had the orchestra at ‘audience’. Having said that, the full Kings pit is quite far down although there’s a complex raised pit that can be employed for smaller band. It may not have been installed 45 years ago so it’s possible Barenboim took the lesser of two evils.

          Best, Robert

          • Nick2 says:

            HI Robert – merely for accuracy, I am now certain the pit you refer to was created as part of the theatre’s 1985 renovations. These installed the pit lift when, in the process, it was discovered there was an “extended capacity” – presumably under the stage.

    • zazaco says:

      And for that Carmen opera, with all the star singers and Abbado, the budget had been cancelled bu-y the City of Edinburgh. Peter Diamand informed the singers that it would not happen… ALL of them sent back the contracts and came to sing for FREE. That was their “present” to Peter Diamand!
      Who in fact had been the person who gave Barenboim his first chances to perform. Like he did with Kathleen Ferrier.

  • anon says:

    With a receptive home in Berlin, no wonder he forswore all American orchestras, I can’t think of a single major American orchestra that would tolerate half of what was reported about his behavior or give him a quarter of the control he exercises at the Staatsoper.

    On his return to Chicago after a 20 year absence, there were visibly empty seats throughout the hall. The critics and musicians were politely lukewarm, not much more.

    • Saxon Broken says:

      It is not just the US where he would not have that kind of control, I don’t think he would get that control at any other institution in Europe. Personally, I find the extreme control he exercises at the Berlin Staatsoper baffling.

  • nothing new about Mr B says:

    they forgot to write about [redacted] his friends he pushed in certain positions (regardless of the level) .. well – all of those facts are well known, . in the Berlin State Opera there is a time when Barenboim is in the house and then there is a time when he is away ..

  • Emanuele Passerini says:

    Ohh, I miss Claudio Abbado still so much…………. he was the one that after Karajan’s era said to the Berlin musicians: “I’m not Maestro, I’m not Mr Abbado, I’m not Your Majesty, please call me just Claudio”. Another planet.

    • Tamino says:

      Yes, but, for each orchestra musician who is impressed by that, you find two, who want a more clear and authoritative direction from the podium. Horses for courses.
      Taking responsibility is hard and laborious…

    • Nina says:

      Absolutely correct!

  • Rosemary Forbes-Butler says:

    Benjamin Britten was infamous for ‘corpsing’ people who were of no more use to him. Barenboim has done similar with soloists he was once very keen on like violinist Shlomo Minz and cellist Matt Haimovitz. Promoting them in high profile concerts and them dropping them when somebody more glamorous comes (eg Vengerov). Not much loyalty

  • Tamino says:

    You do a ‘Faustian pact’ with the devil, there is always consequences.
    Barenboim brought artistic genius, wealth and prosperity to Staatsoper.
    By his good connections into the political class, the orchestra supplemented their mediocre pay checks to be competitive to the level of the Berlin Phil, by federal state funds, that were given not to the orchestra directly and unconditionally, but given contractually bound to Barenboim’s presence.
    So you could call the system a state sanctioned tyranny in Berlin Staatsoper.
    There were always those who also suffered under his personal flaws. People left, people inflicted trauma.
    But the majority allowed it, in an – unfortunately inhumane yet too humane – manner, that is ALWAYS the empowering element to tyrants and the real drama in such scenarios.
    The king might not even understand, why the sheep are all of the sudden ganging up and biting his legs.
    Nobody confronted him ever in the past. Why now? I haven’t done anything particularly bad recently?

  • jaypee says:

    Mr. Lebrecht likes moronic comments such as this one, or sue’s or dog’s…
    But god forbids you criticize their authors using their own “arguments”… Mr. Lrebrech don’t want to offend these idiots because he needs them. Hence their regular presence and the absence of any dissenting voices.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      Sir, you have an anger management problem, for which you were long banned from this site. I m sorry to see that you have not recovered.

      • prof says:

        A lot of people agree with what jaypee said above. I don’t find any evidence of anger. And yes, I’ve been banned from the site too, obviously for saying things you don’t like to hear.

  • ASteven says:

    Can anyone explain why Barenboim has never conducted at Covent Garden??

  • John Borstlap says:

    Barenboim wrote interesting books, especially “A Life in Music”, where he extols the core of humanism as embedded in classical music, its power to humanize, to civilize, to educate the emotions, to reach-out to ‘the other’…. etc. But in a TV interview he underlined the ‘historic inevitability of atonality’, and in the text of a London concert programme booklet. Barenboim compares Beethoven and Schoenberg as two similar heroes who created ‘irrevocable consequences for the future of composition’, which would make ‘their absolute value different from other composers’. Etc. etc…. all totalitarian rewriting of history as a line of progress, i.e. modernist ideology. Hence his friendship with Boulez, which – if he meant his descriptions of the humanism of classical music – is like helping the hangman lay the rope around your own neck.

  • El Grillo says:

    not that I’m commenting about the rest of the article, i wouldn’t know the validity not knowing any of those people on either side; but i find the quote of Jacqueline’s a cheap shot

    someone who is sick and just tries to express how abandoned she feels, which I doubt very highly is really a comment on how much anybody else has to give, she probably was lost for words

  • grabenassel says:

    These things have been known for years in Berlin‘s musicians circles…..so nothing new…After the wall came down it was a decision of the German politicians to push the Staatsoper up to the top representative opera house in Germany. Barenboim with his reputation and political influence seemed to be the right man. And yes, he achieved a lot, financially and artistically, but the price was and is high. He kicked out half of the musicians, put in his „friends“ ( lots of these weren’t his friends anymore after a couple of years and were kicked/mobbed out also). Since this whole Staatsoper construct is absolutely dependending on DB, there is no one who dares to say anything against him, neither politician nor musicians. As „Tamino“ wrote here earlier: „if you do a Faustian pact with the devil, there is always consequences“. Sad but true.

    • Saxon Broken says:

      I find the idea that the Berlin Staatsoper is dependent on him to be baffling. Any reasonably competent music director, with a sufficient budget, would have raised it to be the top “German” opera house. Arguably, both Vienna and Munich still rank above Berlin so it isn’t even clear he has been completely successful.

  • Ben says:

    It has given me faith in humanity, that this kind of narcissistic authoritarian behavior from “great figures”, and their lackeys who believe that it’s their right to treat people badly…
    It’s good to see how all that BS is going out of fashion, at least in the classical music world.

  • M McAlpine says:

    Interesting that the man who was considered the dictator pa excellence, Karajan, said that losing your temper in a rehearsal was counter productive as it made the musicians nervous and they didn’t give of their best. Of course, he had many other ways of showing his displeasure.

  • Martin says:

    Yes Barenboim is unquestionably a very fine musician. That said, a couple of years ago I saw him conduct his Staatskapelle Orchestra to mark the opening of Berlin’s Pierre Boulez Saal. Performed ‘in the round’ I was sitting but a few feet from the players. After the Maestro made his protracted, narcisistic ‘every one look at me’ entrance, there followed a performance of Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony totally devoid of charm and in which the entire orchestra seemed to beplaying in a state of fear and tension and on the edge of their seats (for all the wrong reasons) throughout. At the end, while D.B. took more protracted bows, there was not a glimmer of enthusiasm nor a single smile amongst the orchestra. The previous evening I was sitting in the front row of the Staatsoper, just above the pit, to see Sir Simon Rattle conduct the same orchestra in a searing account of Janacek’s Katya Kabanova. The orchestra applauded Rattle at the start of each Act, then at the close they cheered him as he left. When he came on stage (to a huge ovation from the audience) the whole orchestra turned to face the stage and cheered him long and vociferously with the rest of us. That says it all I think.

  • Charles says:

    I can’t talk about his pour treatment of people. I think what is worse is that he is boring. . . boring! One of his mid-90s performances with Chicago along with a Walter Weller performance in Houston are the two most boring performances that I have heard in my lifetime. I think that he has been a much better pianist and I can’t, for the life of me, understand why he is conducting.

  • Dan says:

    No amount of genius excuses this horrible behaviour. The classical music world is demanding enough and we don’t need PTSD cases from working under such a primadonna.

  • Rob says:

    He’s a scorpio, scorpios are demanding. Live up to the expectations or get out.

  • Rosemary Forbes-Butler says:

    Mr Barenboim should be more understanding of other people’s mistakes. Last time he played the Hammerklavier in London there were fistfuls of wrong notes. One reviewer likened it to Xenakis. Of course, he’s too important to bother with practising (like mere mortals do).

  • Anon says:

    Why is no one speaking about Jaap Van Zweden? He was an absolute terror in Dallas.

  • fred Snick says:

    It seems there is an abundance of nobodies, wannabes, and never-weres in the comment section today.

  • Peter Von Berg says:

    Not so fantastic a pianist.

  • brian says:

    Ok, this guy is known in musical circles as a tyrant. You know, if it was a football coach, like Vince Lombardi, who was also known as a tyrant, people would praise him for accepting nothing but excellence. But since he is an orchestral conductor people expect him to behave in a humane way toward the players who play for him.

    That Barenboim is difficult to work with is an established fact. So is his genius. His Beethoven Sonatas, which you can hear on YouTube, are the best. Likewise, his playing of Mozart is simply beautiful. He understands the classical tradition better than perhaps anyone alive. It is not his technical command at the podium or his mastery of conducting but something else — something undefinable that he has. Likewise, his amazing humanitarian work and his support of young musicians from the Middle East is simply phenomenal.

    Musicians who work in non-union regional orchestras deal with this kind of thing all of the time. If you come to a rehearsal unprepared, you won’t be asked back. Or the director does not think you are watching him and your job gets threatened. Or the director goes down the rows of strings and has each stand play in front of the orchestra. In regional orchestras, these are not uncommon experiences. Rehearsals are not for the feint of heart! The only way to survive these experiences is preparation. As a regional player in an excellent — but not unionized — regional orchestra I have experienced these things.

    Major full-time professional orchestras are fully unionized. The players in these orchestras are, of course, excellent in all ways. These players expect and usually receive good treatment from a director. When a director like Barenboim comes along, however, and treats these musicians like they are in a regional orchestra and the players bristle. That is the genesis of the problem here.

    So Barenboim disrespects the rank and file players in the orchestra and plays favorites. That is common in every workplace as well as every regional orchestra. Elitist Silicon Valley entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates terrorized their employees. The company president does not know all the employees by name and does not socialize with “lower” employees. The boss gets mad and yells.

    Barenboim seems guilty only of these things. He is not a fun guy all of the time and he demands the absolute best out of his players at all times. So perhaps the players should rejoice at the great privilege of playing the world’s greatest music under one of the greatest musicians of the twentieth and twenty first centuries.