An influential newspaper mounts Barenboim’s defence

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, possibly Germany’s most respected newspaper, has mounted a full-page rebuttal of recent bullying charges against Daniel Barenboim in its widely-read Saturday edition.

On the top two-thirds of the page, the Mexican tenor Rolando Villazon explains why he loves working with Barenboim. On the bottom third two former Barenboim assistants, Simone Young and Thomas Guggeis, maintain that they saw no bullying.

The FAZ page is firewalled here.

UPDATE: And here’s another defence in Tagespiegel from Jurgen Flimm. The PRs have been working all night long.

From Villazon’s comments:

‘Art is not a company. Does that mean that disrespect and abuse of power must be accepted? Absolutely not! It means, however, that passion and temperament are welcome. Some of the best results in directing arise from a disagreement which then empties into common laughter.

‘It is very easy to find dissatisfaction in a collective. Show me an orchestra, and I’ll show you ten musicians who are just dissatisfied with their conductor. People are very different and have different preferences and opinions. But here’s something bigger:

‘It’s about how we make music and create art – at the highest level. That’s why a rehearsal is not a picnic, no therapy session, and no social. A rehearsal is a place where everyone needs to bring their best to achieve excellence together.’

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    • Agreed. The anti-Barenboim tirade has been rather toxic and unnecessarily defamatory.

    • I have come to this story rather late, but would like to applaud Lady Weidenfeld both for her comment here and for her letter of support for Daniel Barenboim in The Times. I find the vicious attacks on Barenboim mystifying. I sang twelve Ring cycles for him at Bayreuth, a hotbed of gossip if ever there was one, and never once came across any hint of an altercation between him and the orchestral players. Indeed such was the bond between them that he played football with them at weekends.

      • Thank you Dame Anne; I was incensed at the injustice of the attack and the way it was blown up beyond all proportion by the media. Hopefully it can be laid to rest and seen as a storm in a very small teacup and this great artist and human being can be left in peace. Hopefully the Staatskapelle can persuade him to renew his contact when the time comes. They are lucky to have him and they know it.

  • Musicians at times appear to be too stupid for words.If he is as bad a person as stated the answer is simple …………

  • If I were Berliners (in State Opera) I would try to keep him there as long as possible. I’ve just paid for his concerts with Berlin Philharmonic twice the money I paid for the ones with Paavo Jarvi in the same reserve. There is no one else today with the same sort of star power & he still possesses quality.

  • Berlin musicians and politicians sure know how to make life difficult for an authoritarian music director who overstays his welcome..if they want to.

    I was just rereading the epic fights between the West Berlin Senate, the Berlin Phil, and Karajan.

    It was EPIC:

    – Berlin Phil rejects Karajan’s principal clarinetist
    – Karajan cancels Berlin at Salzburg
    – Senate cancels Berlin Phil tour to New York
    – Karajan cancels appearance at a European festival that Berlin had heavily invested in that Berlin was hosting

    None of that could happen today (or matter)

  • Also the recently announced Ring Cycle sold out within an hour apparently according to the Staatsoper website.
    Two cycles in September 2019.

  • Absolutely right about the PR’s working on this one. Deutsche Grammophon was tweeting out the FAZ article yesterday. Their social media usually consists solely of promoting their albums.

  • Glad bureaucratic human resources attitude were noticed and nipped in the bud. Those who [refer corporate justice over involvement in a process led by inspiration and imagination should leave while they are ahead.

  • I cannot resist copying here, for non German speakers, the moving defence of Barenboim in today’s Tagespiegel by Juergen Flimm, one of the greatest directors of our time. Forgive the primitive Google translate version but I couldn’t put my beloved Menahem Pressler through yet another lengthy translation exercise! German speakers have the link given by Norman above.
    “Because of “climate of fear”. With Daniel Barenboim as the boss, the Staatsoper Unter den Linden has experienced great moments, writes his comrade-in-arms. A guest contribution.

    When on Friday evening Boulez Hall had lost the last sounds of heaven and the audience rose to a standing ovation, an exhausted barenboim hurried from musician to musician and thanked him with a heartfelt hug. It was a concert in honor of the venerable world architect Frank Gehry, who celebrated his 90th birthday, in his Boulez Hall, a jewel of Berlin’s concert world. What respect!

    I have been able to work on the ten years with Daniel Barenboim at the State Opera and constantly rub my eyes, what I have to read about this artist, who has done everything for the city and the culture of Berlin and more. Am I reading correctly?
    We have experienced great moments with Daniel Barenboim and his incomparable Staatskapelle, which he has developed into one of the best orchestras in the world, and with his grand piano, which from his childhood on he is able to elicit to my delight the most beautiful sounds to which one belongs listening to our great joy.

    Ten years and more, we already worked in a “climate of fear”. How should that work, please? Monsters in the hallways? Poor, pale-faced, meager employees are desperately squeezed into nooks and crannies as the Emperors sweep the stages with their Praetorians?
    Services like these do not arise under pressure and coercion

    We have had difficult times behind us and yet in the Schiller Theater more than 100 (in words one hundred!) Productions of the bigger and smaller kind organized – and with success! Does anyone who has ever stuck his nose in a theater, of whatever provenance, believe such performances could come under pressure and coercion? I have been behind me as a theater director for forty years, but neither in Cologne, nor in Hamburg, nor at the Triennale, nor at the certainly difficult Salzburg Festival has there ever been a “climate of fear.” So not in the Staatsoper, neither in Bismarckstraße nor Unter den Linden!

    I know the State Opera as well as few. Had I ever felt such a climate as a boss, I would have unlocked the door and windows and let fresh air flow in! Have to! I would give something if I had another year with Daniel. I got down to work tomorrow morning. He is a smart, quick-witted and especially funny person. There is really nothing to argue about his musical education and artistic skills, his uncomfortable political views. His homeland, Erez Israel, is anything but pleased with his commitment to peace in the Middle East, his commitment to the Diwan Orchestra. And for all that comes his profound aptitude for empathy.

    After my stroke, Daniel visited me every day

    When our highly deserved concertmaster Batzdorf retired, Daniel prepared a unique farewell to him. In front of thousands of spectators in the Royal Albert Hall he gave him a speech of thanks (standing ovations). When Axel Wilczok, also one of our concert masters, became seriously ill with cancer, Barenboim always stayed with him and insisted on his participation. Barenboim was close to Axel until his painful death.

    When Moidele Bickel collapsed, I told him about it, we drove straight to the hospital and told of earlier. He knew this incomparable costume designer from the great work together on “Wozzeck” in Paris with Patrice Chéreau. He was with her several times and she was always happy and happy.

    Some time ago I had a bad stroke. I did not know what happened to me and what would happen. Daniel visited me every day, encouraged me, and talked about so much future. I know today that I would never have recovered so well and quickly without his constant encouragement. When our friend and dramaturge Jens Schroth died, he left us quite disturbed. At a small ceremony in his honor Daniel Barenboim sat down at his piano and played for Jens and for us, how comforting that was!

    “Climate of fear,” the gazettes write. Do not the nine-wise-wise know that by doing so they accuse all kind and industrious associates insultingly of pale inactivity?

    At the guest performance in China Barenboim invited the whole orchestra to dinner

    Many press colleagues have been our guests on many journeys with Daniel around the world. No one who was up close at Carnegie Hall or even recently in Japan or China has noticed a “climate of fear”. Hello? Has nobody noticed that the General Music Director recently invited the entire orchestra to a sumptuous meal during the guest performance in China, as usual?

    The paths of art are varied and intricate and difficult. The goal is mostly in the distance. On this path, many will probably remain out of breath on the edge, amazed that the journey continues without him. Because, of course, there are frictions in artistic processes, nobody is immune from that, from fierce arguments and great strife. Because of what? We know all who work in these institutions, that it is something as blurred as tastes and fashions unpredictable appearances. That is why we are there and in no factory.

    Even the noble Nikolaus Harnoncourt was shaken by angry anger, driving out of his skin: “Please, he shouted loud then, listen to me!” And shook his folded hands high in the air. Once, when a double bass player played a Mozartian piano part too loudly, the maestro offered quite a pampy and very forte that he could play from home, that would be the right volume. Harnoncourt did not take offense and started the job again from the beginning.

    And the successor. We should leave that to the famous orchestra, the senator and Daniel Barenboim. They will do it. But still he conducts and plays for us, and we are happy!”

  • Of course Barenboim will never be nasty to Lady Weidenfeld or Rolando Villazon. But that’s not the point. He behaves very authoritarian and inhuman to his employees, who don’t express themselves publicly because they are afraid to get fired and never get a job in music business again.
    I have experienced this several times and decided never to work for Barenboim.

  • The structure of the defense of DB is

    a) to claim that one needs a bit of bullying to get the best out of musicians.
    b) admitting that DB can be less than pleasant.
    c) claiming he is not as bad as that.

    The fact is that he has had personality issues for a long time, people are getting tired of his behaviour and are daring to say so publicly.

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