Barenboim’s son joins major string quartet

Barenboim’s son joins major string quartet


norman lebrecht

August 26, 2020

The violinist Michael Barenboim has joined the Michelangelo String Quartet, replacing Nobuko Imai who is leaving after almost 20 years.

He will play viola in the new formation: Mihaela Martin, Conrad Muck (violins), Barenboim (viola) and Frans Helermson (cello) .





  • Viola Player says:

    It’s a shame there were no qualified viola players worldwide…

    • Bruce says:

      Hahahaha. Maybe he IS one.

      Naaaaah. They couldn’t possibly know what they were looking for or, after working with a player like Imai, recognize quality when they heard it. They’re just stupid. Everything is stupid.

    • Bill says:

      Violists are great. Every quartet should have one. There’s really only one thing a violinist can do better than a violist…play the viola!

      • Lauren Lamont says:

        Unfortunately that’s a very sad concept. Viola is not just another instrument, it’s a role. This is what most violinists don’t understand. Violinists play for, “Look at me” and violists play for, “I can help make it better.”

  • JohnB says:

    Without the name “Barenboim” Michael wouldn’t even play the viola in a second class orchestra. He’s a more than mediocre violinist, but with this name and the help of daddy’s friends like Lorin Maazel, Pierre Boulez or Zubin Mehta, inviting him to perform as a soloist with some major orchestras like the Vienna or Munich Philharmonic, Michael pursues what you can call a major career.

    Not forgetting daddy appointed him concertmaster (and sometimes soloist) of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra and Dean and Professor for chamber music and Violin at the Barenboim-Said Akademie.

    I must confess I never heard of the Michaelangelo String Quartet, but there’s still to mention that Mihaela Martin and her husband Frans Helmerson are close friends of Daniel Barenboim and his wife Elena Bashkirova, who is running the Jerusalem International Chamber Music Festival and Martin and Helmerson regularly perform there. Someone else who’s regularly performing there is… Michael Barenboim.

    This is nepotism at its finest.

    Sorry, Michael, I’m sure you’re a nice guy but you should have chosen another profession.

    • Jewelyard says:

      Oh, come off it. He’s a very fine violinist and a probing musician with wide ranging musical interests. In terms of his success, nepotism play a factor, sure, but he backs it up. No need to cancel him because his last name is Barenboim.

    • Lady Weidenfeld says:

      Michael Barenboim is an excellent violinist whom I have had the pleasure and privilege to hear many many times; not only in the East West Divan which he leads superbly but in chamber music and playing concerti, often mastering very challenging and difficult contemporary pieces with security, skill and superb sound. Very many great viola players like Pinchas Zuckerman and Michael Tree of the Guarneri are wonderful violinists and JohnB’s insulting and ignorant remarks implying that the son of a great artist could not also be great in his own right, make one wonder if he ever heard Michael Barenboim play and perhaps he himself might have attempted both instruments without success… Sounds like a very bitter fellow to me.

      • JohnB says:

        Oh come on! I do have ears and I often listenend to his performances with disappointment. Or would you really say this is good playing?

        Every average violin student plays it better (and with more emotion).

        • Lady Weidenfeld says:

          I have no idea what you managed to dig up to try to prove your point and this in no way alters my opinion of Michael Barenboim as an artist having listened to him since many years. I could send you a mass of links to his excellent playing in every capacity but it would be a complete waste of time. You are not only insulting Michael but also his father who, in case you didn’t realise it, has the highest standards and would be particularly exigent when it came to his own son. You can be certain that every position he has, including this one, was earned through his own gifts and the very high opinion he has earned from fellow musicians.

          • JohnB says:

            I didn’t have to dig up anything, Michael posted many, many videos of him playing on his YouTube-Channel. And if you have ears to listen and only little understanding of music you must admit that his playing is just not good. No sound, no emphasis, no looseness… Compare this to Hahn, Jansen, Kavakos, Zimmermann, Batiashvili. Do you really think Michael can compare well to their level? But of course I’m very much looking forward to your links where Michael’s playing is excellent! Please convince me!

            To repeat my point: I’m not against Michael as a person, I’m sure he’s a great guy. But I’m against pushing him into a career he doesn’t make because of his playing but only because his father is one of the most powerful men in the business. Of course Daniel Barenboim is a fantastic conductor and has the highest standards but you also know that parents aren’t the best judges when it concerns their children.

          • Alexander T says:

            Daniel Barenboim, highest standards ???? LOL
            Listen to his performance at Jacques Chirac’s funeral. Excruciating !

        • Alexander T says:

          I listened to the clip. Parts of the fugue are dire.
          To call it mediocre playing would be charitable.

        • Alexander T says:

          I am really surprised that he should think such poor playing is worth posting on YouTube.
          It shows a certain lack of awareness of his shortcomings.

        • Bill says:

          Got a link to any performances of your own? We only ask that they rise to the level of an average violin student. Surely you can manage that? No?

    • Bruce says:

      Wolfgang only got his start because of Leopold.

    • True North says:

      JohnB is being too harsh and actually quite unkind. Perhaps he has a personal beef with this family. But I am now listening to M.B. on YouTube. I’m hearing a highly competent violinist (both technically and musically) who would be terrific in a chamber or orchestral setting. I don’t think his playing has quite enough personality or flair for a major international solo career amongst the top tier but I certainly don’t find any great faults besides a bit of generalized stiffness and maybe not quite the warmest tone I’ve ever heard from a violinist. Unfortunately did not find any excerpts of him playing viola for comparison.

  • It is Helmerson, nothing else.
    And, with all due respect to Barenboim Senior, isn’t he also a son of a Barenboim? Isn’t Michael good enough to stand on his own legs and being recognized for what he is, without being presented as merely the son of a famous father? Life must be difficult for him anyway, with that name.

  • Carlos Solare says:

    …and he saw the Light, repented of past sins and turned to the viola.

  • Beinisch says:

    Michael is a very good viola player with a lot of experience in chamber music.

  • Sir David Geffen-Hall says:

    It’s a family business. Just ask Don Corleone.

  • Bruce says:

    OMG Frans Helmerson! <3 One of my favorite cellists from way back (in the 80s).

    (It's HelMERson, btw)

  • JohnB says:

    Something to add to my comment above:

    I’m not interested in bashing or destroying someone, but I heard Michael play many times (the last time at the opening of the Pierre Boulez Saal in 2017, I think he then played a Mozart Piano Quintet alongside his father and Berg Chamber Concerto, also together with D.B.) and his playing was always at a very low level, at least compared to “real” soloists.

    Despite his poor playing, Boulez brought Michael Barenboim as a soloist even to the Berliner Philharmoniker (but then himself had to cancel and was replaced by Vasily Petrenko), of course with Schoenberg Concerto. Someone experienced in the business must have told him that, with his limited skills, he must focus on repertoire not many other people are playing. So, when he performs with major orchestra, he’s mostly playing Berg or Schoenberg Violin Concertos. And most of his other concerts take place at the Pierre Boulez Saal, daddy’s own concert hall.

    As far as I’m informed, M.B. recorded 4 CDs, among them Schoenberg Violin Concerto (with Vienna Philharmonic / Boulez, other work on the CD is Schoenberg Piano Concert with soloist D. Barenboim) and Mozart Piano Trios (with Kian Soltani and D. Barenboim).

    Daddy’s helping here, too…

    Also interesting to know:

    The federal government of Germany finances the operating costs of the Barenboim-Said Akademie with seven million euros per year, that means Michaels chair is very likely financed by the german taxpayers.

    Thank you, daddy!

    Danny, are you adopting?

    • Lady Weidenfeld says:

      As I said above you are not only insulting Michael but above all his father, implying that he would push a mediocre son into the engagements he has. This shows, not only your lack of discernment in judging the boy but your total absence of understanding Barenboim père as an artist!

    • Lady Weidenfeld says:

      Incidentally you are also off on your Mozart! There is no “Quintet” with piano and violin! There are two piano Quartets but the Quintet is for piano and wind. You may have been listening to that, in which case you would have imagined the violin part. No wonder it sounded bad!

      • JohnB says:

        You got me! You revealed that I have absolutely no knowledge of music!

        Of course you‘re right, I just grabbed out the programme booklet and saw that it was the Piano Quartet in E-flat Major. Damn it!

    • Alexander T says:

      Interesting. I have been, at times, puzzled by Boulez’s choice of soloists.

    • Bill says:

      Your memory is not very reliable. Not only did you not remember the piece he played, you invented one that Mozart didn’t write.

      You can look at the program from the opening night online at

      Mozart piano quartet K. 493

    • Mike says:

      Can he compare with top violin soloists? No, But if he could, he would probably be having a solo career instead of joining a quartet as a violist. I’m a string player in a top US orchestra and I know how to asses other string players. He’s a good violinist (not amazing) who’s likely a sensitive and certainly experienced ensemble player. If he’s not, I doubt he’ll stay in the group. No need for character assassination.

      • JohnB says:

        Mike, but this is the point!

        I wouldn’t say anything if he was ONLY the new violist in a (part-time) string quartet but he IS having a quite impressive solo career (see my post above). And I’m very convinced that he’s having this solo career exclusively because of his name and the power his father has in the music business.

        And, Annabelle, of course you know the Barenboims well and it probably is your duty to defend Michael, but if you’re honest with yourself you know that he’s not a good violinist and that he never ever would have made this career without the generous support of his parents.

        • Lady Weidenfeld says:

          JohnB I don’t believe I know you as you hide behind an assumed name. Believe it or not you can be a friend of the Barenboims and be honest and a son of the Barenboims and be a good violinist. Michael does not need my defense but your comments reek of a hidden agenda which is repulsive to anyone with a sense of justice and decency. You list a host of great violinists asking if Michael can be compared to any of them. You air your views without having understood that the very definition of an artist is that he is unique. Just as a Jansens could not be compared to a Kavakos. Because you have a low opinion of Michael Barenboim, you assume that he would not be where he is without his father. I disagree. I suggest that instead of asking to be adopted by Barenboim you go and see if Zakhar Bron accept to give you some lessons and you try to get somewhere on your own. You’ll feel better.

          • JohnB says:

            Oh Annabelle, you just don’t understand me (or don’t you want to understand me?).

            What makes you think I’m a failed violinist? Did I mention that somewhere? Do I have to play the violin to be able to judge violinists (by the way, are you a violinist?)? Do I have to be a pianist to recognise a good pianist? Do I have to be a conductor to have the right to criticise the interpretation of a symphony?

            Maybe it’s just that I know more about music than many other people (except you, of course) and I attend well over 100 concerts every year (ok, not this year), many of them great, but also some less great. And among the less great ones, unfortunately, were the concerts in which Michael Barenboim was involved.

            Personally, I listen to music first and foremost analytically, paying attention to objective criteria such as the technical abilities of an interpreter and his or her sound, but then it is also important to me that there is something special in what a musician does. Music has to surprise and overwhelm me, I have to recognise beauty or, if necessary, even ugliness in it. A great musician has his own musical language, he is able to convince with his appearance.

            I am not a fan of Patricia Kopatchinskaja, not at all, but her Schönberg concerto with the Berlin Philharmonic in March 2019 was nevertheless a personal highlight for me and I am fair enough to admit this without envy. She doesn’t fulfil most of the criteria that are important to me, but she still manages (at least for certain pieces) to bring a special and individual moment into her performance. She makes music, unlike Michael, who in my opinion just stands there and plays the notes that are on the stand in front of him. But music is mainly hidden between the notes, it consists of shades and subtle elements.

            When you write that the very definition of an artist is that he is unique, do I have to call myself an artist just to be uncriticizable? Is my way of playing then automatically the right one? Of course you can compare Jansen and Kavakos only up to a certain point, but what both have in common is that they are fantastic musicians who not only master their instrument with sovereignty but also have something to say musically. Both are able to convince me even when my conception is completely different, because they are absolutely convincing in what they do. Both have a rich palette of colours of sound, but they never use it as an end in itself. Above all, both have a charisma that makes their playing compelling. Something that makes them true performers.I miss all this with Michael.

            PS: I agree with you that Henryk Szeryng was one of the greatest violinists of all times.

          • Lady Weidenfeld says:

            JohnB you may not be a failed violinist but I do not understand what drives you to attempt this hatchet job on Micheal and his family, assuming that he only got where he is through nepotism! I am not the only one in this thread to find your attack unjustified and unduly harsh. At the same time you are clobbering Boulez, Mehta and Maazel as mugs who only want to please Barenboim by engaging his son. You have absolutely no proof of your allegations. As in David’s astute analysis of course it helps at the start that Michael is a Barenboim and not a Schmidt but then he has to prove himself even more than a Schmidt would! I am convinced that he has done so with flying colours and if your bitter, unjustified allegations don’t come from being a failed violinist, I am no shrink to work it out.

          • Lady Weidenfeld says:

            Also the definition of an artist being unique does not put them above criticism, far from it. What it does mean is that you cannot compare them! You may prefer one to another but something unique is just that and a true artist has to be unique!

  • Karl says:

    Without his name this gentlemen would not be where he is.

  • Edgar Self says:

    Confusing. Is it nepotism still if husband and wife are in a quartet, like Pacifica and this one? Or consanguity in the Budapest and Busch?

  • Couperin says:

    Heard him play Boulez solo “Anthemes” at a private tribute for Boulez at Carnegie Hall a few years ago. I had never heard him before so I had an open mind. The very first gesture of the work is a fast passage and he immediately squeaked and scratched the crap out of it. Downhill from there. I really wasn’t impressed. In other words, he’s no Allie Weilerstein.

  • Tom says:

    One of the worst violinist soloists the 21st century… the worst Prokofiev 1i’ve has the the displeasure off

  • Edgar Self says:

    De gusgibus. But all this is priceless publicity for the Michelangelo Quartet, which as a result is now considerably better-known. I wonder … but, no, only one quartet comes to mind that was named for its violist, the primrose. But that’s starting from the top.

    Quartets famous for their violist are less rare … the old Pro Arte’s Germain Prevost; the Borodin, and Pacifica until ecently

    It would be useful to have Max Raimi’s views, as expert, and familiar with the family,,–perhaps too familiar?

  • DAVID says:

    Just because there might have been nepotism doesn’t mean he doesn’t deserve the job. Frankly, I don’t believe that anyone who can play the Schoenberg Violin Concerto as well as he does can seriously be called a poor player — that would just be a totally absurd argument, as this concerto is famously known to be on the verge of unplayability. Moreover, the view that there is justice or fairness in the classical music world is totally naive, especially nowadays, when there is such a plethora of incredibly gifted artists that the field is saturated to such a point that many of them will simply not be able to have the career they rightfully deserve — it’s just the reality of supply and demand, as well as the influence of one factor often neglected in such discussions: sheer luck. I know of absolutely mediocre players who have gotten fantastic jobs, way above their league, and conversely of terrific players who are somehow unable to live from their craft because things just didn’t pan out. And if we’re going to go the route of exposing good players having a bad day (which, by the way, I really don’t think he was in this particular excerpt) or of singling out one little “scratchy” incident in the first 10 seconds of an extremely awkward passage technically under pressure as in the first few bars of Anthèmes, I could probably come up with several videos on YouTube of some of the biggest names in history playing well below their reputation, and have personally heard people with big solo careers, in the same room as I, play like absolute pigs. It’s just too easy, and frankly disingenuous, to destroy someone’s image, even though it seems to be a favorite sport these days. Everyone is merely human and entitled to having a bad day once in a while. Could someone else have equally deserved the job? Most likely. But there just are too many qualified players nowadays, so much so that the “selection” is often going to hinge on the smallest of factors, and in the end perhaps on sheer subjective preference. Some may not want to recognize this reality, but having a career in classical music is no longer what it used to be a few decades ago. Any player in a major orchestra nowadays can easily match the level of the biggest soloists in former generations. It may not be a glamorous reality to those who still believe in the idea of meritocracy, but for every soloist who makes it, there are hundreds of equally deserving players who will get nowhere because either they didn’t fit a particular image, didn’t make the right connections, didn’t have enough business sense, or who plain weren’t lucky enough to have enough circumstances play in their favor.

    • Lady Weidenfeld says:

      Very well said David and I agree one hundred percent. The great Henryk Szeryng would not have had the career he had if he did not have the luck to meet and play for none other than Arthur Rubinstein! Szeryng himself was then very helpful to young colleagues, not only doing all he could for their careers but giving them good instruments and bows! A little bit of luck can help a lot as long as you have a little bit of talent!

  • Martinu says:

    I have heard M. Barenboim numerous times at the Jerusalem Chamber music festival. Each year I have hoped that he improves – to no avail. He is a mediocre musician. When playing contemporary works you can’t compare. When he plays known classics he sounds like a beginner music student. Flat and boring. When surrounded by the superb musicians who come yearly to J’lem it is embarrassing.
    Michaela Martin is a superb artist, and her quartet played several times at the festival (and she herself as a chamber musician). The quartet was great. Pity that mediocrity has joined it.
    (M. Barenboim had his own quartet playing in J’lem, with the wonderful Madeleine Carruzzo playing the viola, acting as the “responsible adult” and saving (some of ) the day).

  • Edgar Self says:

    The Bsrenboim anti-claque are tireless in slating an idealistic artist who actively engages in politics, sometimes against policies of one his several citizenhips, and like Montaigne strives for good terms with both sides, with less success. What would they make of a politically active Furtwaengler, damned either way, another auto-targe but hero to Menuhin and Barenboimt? “Whoever sits atop of the flagpole must endure the cawing of the dcrows” — J. W. von Goethe, whose 271st virthday is 28 August.

    A good point, Lady Weidenfeld, about uniqueness and the incomparability of artists.

    Inter-personal dynamics of a quartet are intense. “Four players, each thinking he is saving the situation”. Compatability is vital. They have chosen their violist. Let’s see how it works out.

    Players deprecate players, who hate conductors, eho vie for office and sway. Partisans hate peace-makers. Friends defend friends. The posters post, The connoisseur thinks he knows. How far beyond the grave does the influence of Maazel and Boulez reach? In some quarters, and quartets, it would be a liability.

    Another definition: Fanatic — A man who won’t change his mind and can’t change the ubject.