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Is Barenboim overdoing it? The stats say he is.

The annual workload survey of orchestras and conductors is out this morning from Bachtrack and the man who seems to be burning the candle at both ends, and in the middle of the podium is, for once, not Valery Gergiev.

Daniel Barenboim was clocked last year in no fewer than 56 orchestral concert performances, 49 operas and 15 piano recitals – a total of 120 gigs over the calendar year. He is music director of the state opera in Berlin and at La Scala. He also runs the West-Eastern Diwan Orchestra.

Barenboim turned 70 in November. Even on the latest biomedical supplements, he must know that he is pushing his luck. And ours.


He’s the only classical musician, aside from Gergiev, who commands world attention and can talk to world leaders, eye to eye. We need him to take more care.

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  1. Robert Fitzpatrick says:

    I’m not sure he’s overdoing it, but he has clearly reached a limit for someone now in his 8th decade. He is truly one of the few international musicians with far-reaching artistic and politcal clout. I’m looking forward to his VPO January 1, 2014 concert. I hope he asks the VPO wish a Happy New Year in at least 3 languages (German, Hebrew, and perhaps English).

    • stanley cohen says:

      What, no Arabic?

      • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

        Allah ahbar! Arabic would be fine. But maybe German, English and Chinese would give the most bang for the buck. Wasn’t his first language Spanish?

        • stanley cohen says:

          Castilian Spanish and Ivrit

          • andres saenz says:

            Barenboim was born in Buenos Aires, so his Spanish is Argentinian Spanish and more specifically Porteño Spanish, as different cities and provinces in Argentina have their own recognizable accents and slang.

          • The VPO authorities are extremely cautious about word count at the New Years gig ever since Muti went on an incoherent, rambling and subtly anti-Bush jag in 2003.

          • stanley cohen says:

            Daniel Barenboim was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, to parents of Russian Jewish descent, Aida (née Schuster) and Enrique Barenboim.

            Not a great deal of Spanish-born lingo between those two parents, andres saenz

          • andres saenz says:

            Barenboim speaks fluent Spanish with a Porteño accent, your point is moot.

          • And with 1940s porteño vocabulary and slang.

  2. harold braun says:

    Checking back Maestro Gergiev’s calendar,I think he outdid Maestro Barenboim by far as concerning the number of performances last year.Just think about all the Marinsky Opera performances,and their cruelling touring schedule,and then the LSO and guest conducting stints.I think Gergiev might clock off at 250plus.

    • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

      Gergiev will be 60 in May.His twittering and flittering technique, doesn’t look physically demanding unless you’re trying to follow him. The amazing thing about Barenboim is the conducting AND maintaining his piano chops for recitals. Gergiev wins the numbers game, Barenboim just wins.

      • harold braun says:

        Hmh,his Birthday Concert in Berlin was truly a mixed affair.While Beethoven’s Third Concerto was superb in every way,he really should’t have tried his hands on Tchaikovsky 1 again.A rambling.inconsistent performance full of embarassing deliberately idionsyncratic mannerisms,which could’t hide the fact that he simply was’t up to the pianistic demands of the piece,even when playing most of it at half speed.

        • I am afraid I agree with harold braun about M. Barenboim’s Tchaikowsky concerto in Berlin. There were very mixed signals between both he & M. Mehta. Also wrong notes splattered entrys etc. I was just full of sadness as I have nothing but the highest possible respect for Barenboim but he should have left Tchaikowsky well alone. Perhaps that’s a signal not to do too much. There is always a price to pay.

  3. The only musician I can think of who kept up a similar schedule was Arthur Rubinstein – and that was just at the piano.

  4. Martin Bookspan says:

    In greeting people at post-concert receptions I have heard Barenboim switch instantaneously from English to Hebrew to German to Spanish to Yiddish to Italian—-and by now he probably can also handle Arabic!

    • Marhaba, Martin!

      • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

        I would pay for the flight, concert tickets and treat you all to lunch at the Imperial just to hear the VPO speak Yiddish ! (Wait, I take that back, DB might just get them to do it!).

    • What, Martin, no French? ;-) That’s one of his core six. The Yiddish, Portuguese, and Russian are partial/supplementary. Arabic words but not the language. Among the six there is no hierarchy or Muttersprache — he says he dreams usually in the language of the place he is in — and the same unusual accent in each one, too.

  5. The main thing that always pops up in my mind when I read this kind of statistics is: “Quantity vs. Quality” and the law of diminishing returns. The ideal would be somewhere in the middle of those two extremes … but who is to draw that line?

    Of course, management and artist’s agents (these days, at least) will prefer “Quantity” over “Quality” in the short term — as long as they get their 15% – 20% commissions today (or yesterday), who cares what comes tomorrow? Then again, there are increasing numbers of cases where agencies are actually managed by the artists they pretend to represent (and I might be mistaken, but it seems that the more renomée the artist has, the more likely that this is indeed their business model)…

    A good example of how it “used to be” would be Sol Hurok and Arthur Rubinstein: those agents risked the shirts off their backs at times to finance a tour by an unknown but promising artist! We know from his memoirs that A.R. also sometimes would cover all expenses for some of his concerts when he was more confident than his agents were that they would be profitable, or otherwise artistically worth doing. The converse example would be Vladimir Horowitz, who was accustomed to receiving 80% of the gross box office proceeds.

    Of course, none of this has anything to do with absolute standards, artistically speaking. I absolutely LOVE most of the recordings and performances that D.B. has left us as a pianist, as a conductor, and as a chamber musician! But there are always spots, or individual efforts, where I have to ask myself if less might not be more?

    I agree that it isn’t always possible to draw a clean line. For example, if we didn’t have DB’s rendition of the technically more difficult movements of Beethoven’s “Hammerklavier” sonata No. 29, Op. 106 in B-Flat Major (1 + 4, to be precise), which might not be everyone’s “cup of tea”, then we wouldn’t be able to enjoy his transcendental interpretation of the other movements (3, to be precise). Similar things might be said about his interpretation of the Brahms piano concerto No. 2 in B-Flat Major, Op. 83 or other technically difficult works as well (As an aside: What is it about the key of B-Flat Major, actually, that puts a jinx on many keyboard works in that key???).

    In conclusion, I would say: “Congratulations, keep it going” …(in Ivrit: “KOL HA KAVOD!”) It’s really no “skin off our backs” if each and every one of his interpretations doesn’t fulfill everyone’s expectations. (Honestly now, if some pianist with initials L.L. — and not Louis Lortie — should decide to do likewise, then I might reconsider…)

  6. I don’t find much interesting about Barenboim except, perhaps, his Wagner recordings (Parsifal in particular). Most repertoire, in his hands, tends to sound messy, clumsy and middle-of-the-road.

    One exception: his Staatskapelle Schumann cycle is outstanding.

  7. When you say we need to take more care of him just what can what can ‘we’ do? DB is a mature man who is entirely responsible for his own schedule and should turn down at work if he feels he is overdoing it. Some of us who are still working after retirement age know what it feels like. DB, like me, has to make his own decisions. I really don’t think that a man of his wealth and fame needs us to take care of him.

  8. Why not instead consider quality and Radu Lupu’s limited number but great concerts ?

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