Equally successful as a conductor and as a pianist, Daniel Barenboim was born in Buenos Aires in 1942. He was seven when he made his debut with a recital of works by Beethoven and Prokofiev and, one year later, appeared for the first time with an orchestra. In 1952 his family emigrated to Israel and he won the America-Israel Cultural Foundation Competition in 1953, which allowed him to study with Nadia Boulanger in Paris. In 1954 he attended the conducting class of Igor Markevitch in Salzburg, where he was introduced to Wilhelm Furtwängler, who dubbed him a ‘phenomenon’.
The first phase of his career was devoted to his work as a concert pianist, in which capacity he made his Salzburg Festival debut in 1965. Since his debut with the Philharmonia Orchestra in London in 1967 he has conducted all the world’s major orchestras. His first permanent post was as music director of the Orchestre de Paris from 1975 to 1989. From 1991 to 2006 he was principal conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, retiring with the title of conductor laureate. He made his operatic debut with Don Giovanni at the 1973 Edinburgh Festival and first conducted at the Bayreuth Festival in 1981, returning there every summer until 1999. Since 1992 Daniel Barenboim has been general music director of the Berlin State Opera. In 2000 the Berlin Staatskapelle named him principal conductor for life. As ‘maestro scaligero’, he began a close relationship with La Scala, Milan in 2007, going on to become music director from 2011 until 2014.
In 1999, in partnership with the Palestinian literary theorist Edward Said, he created the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, which brings together young musicians from Israel and the Arab nations. The Orchestra wants to enable the dialogue between the cultures of the Middle East through the experience of making music together. In 2005 the Orchestra gave a concert of historic significance in the Palestinian city of Ramallah. It first appeared at the Salzburg Festival in 2007.
Since 2015 talented young musicians from the Middle East have studied at the Barenboim-Said Academy in Berlin, another of Daniel Barenboim’s initiatives. In the autumn of 2016 the Academy, focussing on music and the humanities, began a four-year bachelor’s programme for up to 90 students in the renovated and remodelled former depot of the Berlin State Opera. The building also houses the Pierre Boulez Saal, designed by Frank Gehry, which has enriched Berlin’s musical life since it opened in March 2017, with Daniel Barenboim as conductor, soloist, chamber musician and accompanist. In 2016 Daniel Barenboim founded a piano trio with violinist Michael Barenboim and cellist Kian Soltani and they gave their first concerts during the summer of 2016 at the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires. During the 2017/18 season the three musicians performed Beethoven’s complete piano trios at the Pierre Boulez Saal alongside contemporary works.
For his cultural and political achievements Daniel Barenboim has received many distinctions including the Prince of Asturias Award, the Buber-Rosenzweig Medal, the Robert Schumann Prize, the Ernst von Siemens Music Prize, the Japanese Praemium Imperiale and the Moses Mendelssohn Medal. In 2010 he was awarded an honorary degree by the Royal Academy of Music in London, the German Culture Prize for his lifetime achievement in music and the Westphalian Peace Prize. His most recent awards include the Herbert von Karajan Music Prize, the Otto Hahn Peace Medal, the Outstanding Musician Award of the Critics’ Circle and the Willy Brandt Prize. The President of France bestowed upon him the title of Grand Officier dans l’Ordre national de la Légion d’honneur; and he was made a KBE. In the summer of 2015 Daniel Barenboim was admitted to the Order Pour le mérite.
His publications include the autobiography A Life in Music, Parallels and Paradoxes (co-authored with Edward Said), Everything is Connected — The Power of Music, Dialoghi su musica e teatro — Tristano e Isotta (with Patrice Chéreau) and most recently La musica è un tutto — Etica ed estetica.