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Barenboim loses it in Walküre

Talk of the town this morning is of Daiel Barenboim blowing his top at his concertmaster at the end of the second act of the second segment of Wagner’s Ring in the BBC Proms.

Most in the 5,000 audience were unaware of the tantrum but friends of ours who sat in one of the front boxes saw Barenboim shouting and gesticulating at the rather portly leader of the Berlin Staatskapelle, apparently (by the direction of his gestures) at something that had gone wrong in the double-basses. Most, apart from the conductor, found the orchestral performance immaculate.

No sooner had his rage blown out, than he started up again at the poor chap in the front seat, to the evident discomfiture of those around him.

Barenboim seemed to remain dissatisfied for the rest of the evening and did not prolong the applause.

That’s understandable. It was a sweaty night in the Royal Albert Hall. But we hope he made it up with the concertmaster afterwards. If there’s one consistency about Daniel Barenboim it’s knowing when he has gone over the top and quickly making amends.

Daniel Barenboim

photo: Chris Christodoulou/Lebrecht Music&Arts

Critic Neil Fisher writes in today’s Times (off-line): A thunderous Daniel Barenboim startled the Prommers at the second instalment of his Proms Ring by giving the concertmaster of the Staatskapelle Berlin a visible tongue-lashing at the end of Act II. What he was guilty of I can’t imagine, because this orchestra takes Wagner to a transcendental level. Nothing was more entrancingly evocative than that final conflagration, exquisitely controlled, flickeringly vivid.

Rupert Christiansen adds a footnote to his Telegraph review: A small but intriguing footnote: during the applause after the second act, Barenboim had a visibly ugly altercation with the orchestra’s leader. Instinctively, I sided with the latter, representing the workforce rather than the management. It all simmered down come the third act, but what can the problem have been?

UPDATE: Could it have been the heat? That’s the line taken by the BBC News website.

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  1. That’s very sad to hear. I left early on the Monday evening – too steamy, & worried I was going to keel over (& that was in the Gallery!), so decided to listen at home on Tuesday. The orchestra were superb, in what are acknowledged to be difficult conditions – the RAH may have undergone renovation, but no air-con has been installed, only something laughingly called “air cooling”. I don’t think this works on stage.

    And just when I might have felt inclined to alter my opinion of Mr. Barenboim, too…

  2. Is it necessary to make derogatory comments about someone’s appearance to give the facts of this story? This is uncharitable. One need not be svelte to be a great concertmaster.

    • Portly is descriptive, not derogatory.

      • Daniel Farber says:

        We’ll all be waiting for your “description” of a “thin” musician.

        • Amen, Daniel Farber. Your comment is spot on.

        • We had the thin concert-master tonight at Siegfried – tall, blond, straight-backed, young-looking. I leave out any comments with regard to his/her race, gender, sexuality and religion, but just add that he sat next to the CM described by NL!

          For all you Barenboim-dislikers (wow! so many and so outspoken), I have to say this is the first time – in over 50 performances – that I have truly enjoyed a whole performance of Siegfried from start to finish. So many orchestral passages that often become very tedious were played with quite thrilling and moving insight. Thank you maestro! I look forward to hearing it again online.

      • Barenboim seems to escaped any kind of description, though. You didn’t say “the rather short Barenboim shouting and gesticulating…”.

      • Michael says:

        Opinions may differ as to whether describing someone as “rather portly” is derogatory or descriptive: I think that most people would feel that drawing attention to the fact that the orchestra’s leader is less than svelte is completely irrelevant to the story. What’s next – the rather short, rather balding conductor? And let’s not start on “portly” tenors and sopranos!

        • I don’t have his name and needed some way to distinguish him from the other concertmasters. No offence was intended.

          • Chad Stoltenberg says:

            other concertmasters?

          • Christine says:

            Descriptive versus derogatory is in the eye of the reader. The writer can say he meant it is as a neutral descriptive but if readers feel something negative when they think of the word, it may say something about their own attitude. The writer did not say the man is less competent due to his girth. A reader extrapolated that. This writer may very well describe another person as thin in a future writing. I detected no anti-portly bias in his writing.

          • Richard Potter says:

            How many Concertmasters does the Staatskapelle Berlin have?

          • fildivoce says:

            «Other concertmasters»? The principal of the first violin section is the concertmaster, and there’s only one in an orchestral performance, even if the orchestra in question has associate or assistant concertmasters. (By the way, «concertmaster» is the term used in the US; in the UK, the term «leader» is often used.) The other principals of the other string sections (sometimes referred to as «section leaders») are NOT concertmasters.

          • Michael Schaffer says:

            Four 1st concertmasters, and three 2nd concertmasters.

          • Michael Schaffer says:

            fildivoce says:
            July 26, 2013 at 2:52 am

            “The other principals of the other string sections (sometimes referred to as «section leaders») are NOT concertmasters.”

            In some German orchestras (e.g. this one, or the Staatskapelle Dresden),some of the principals of the 2nd violins and celli also hold the title of “Konzertmeister”.

        • John Hames says:

          Without wishing to sound like the Daily Mail, this is PC gone mad! You can’t say anything these days. I’m thin: if Norman wants to characterise me as “scrawny”, I’m not going to have a nervous breakdown over it. Anyway, if Norman is painting a word-picture of the event, does it not help us to visualise it if we know that the concertmaster was, and probably still is, on the rotund side? We know what DB looks like.

          • Valerie Tisdel says:

            Yes, adding descriptive language is what makes us have a visual picture of what happened. It’s the mark of a good writer. And if people find “portly” offensive, then that is indicative of society’s bias against “persons of size”, not the author’s. Don’t kill the messenger.

          • Una Barry says:

            I thought we were talking about Barenboim’s ranting, rather than the size of the orchestral leader they happened to use that night? That was far worse :)

      • Esclarmonde says:

        Portly is defined as rather heavy or fat; stout; corpulent, an unnecessary desciption. Leader of the orchestra is usual.

      • Your books are my bibles! and I am always quoting them -
        THANKS very few people have your vision in our musicians world-
        Ps what did you think of the film the Quartet?

    • It is merely a description, which in and of itself, is not derogatory. It depends on how the reader interprets that word, or any other, whether it could be considered derogatory.

    • The description of the CM had the effect of making him a more sympathetic character. It’s bad enough to be humiliated in front of 5000 people (plus 100 of your colleagues). This made him seem more helpless. Perhaps this was NL’s intent.

    • Michael Hinton says:

      It will be helpful when they cast the move years from now.

    • robcat2075 says:

      The connotation of “portly” is relative. Most people probably would not want to be “portly” but one guy i knew gladly identified himself as “portly” when the reality would have been more like OMG-obese.

    • Daihornblower says:

      Bugger the Concertmaster – or “Leader” as we like to call them – what on earth could have happened in the double bases?! What that could matter at ay rate?

    • If you find “portly” to be derogatory, then maybe you should lose weight.

  3. Victoria says:

    I was there and saw the incident and it lasted no longer than a few seconds.And it had no bearing on the rest of the evening.It was fabulous.

    • Una Barry says:

      Sadly it did have a bearing on the rest of the evening, and Barenboim’s behaviour the next night. Nina Stemme also was lost at one point with Barenboim somewhere else in his mind!

  4. Rgiarola says:

    Perhaps Barenboim was just mad and cursing about the cancelation this week of the Argentina winter cup final, between Boca Juniors x San Lorenzo. We (South Americans) really care about football. Sometimes over the top…

  5. I am astonished—-the event had lost some of its beauty on account of this.
    Even if he were to apologize after the concert, he had lost goodwill with the concertmaster.

    I tread this from an English novel when I was 16–
    Frenzy can demolish faster than wisdom can build.

  6. Mark Stratford says:

    The Evening Standard said of Barenboim that night “..His laissez-faire attitude to cueing once or twice led to uncertainty, as when Stemme made three attempts to come in on one entry.”

  7. I can attest from experience that any train wreck in a Barenboim performance is conductor induced.

  8. early onset dementia?

    • stanley cohen says:

      He’s been demonstrating that ever he started on about Israel and the Palestinians. Why do so many great artists convince themselves of their infallibility on subjects outside their fields of expertise?

      • Nobody is “infallible” on any subjesct……. But as a Jew who holds both Israeli and Palestinian passports, who has jointly founded the East Western Divan Orchestra, DB is hardly a vacuous “celebrity” pontificating on a subject he knows nothing about…….

        • stanley cohen says:

          He holds an israeli passport by virtue of the place which gave him and his parents a home when he was young. The Palestinian documents he possesses by virtue of the xenophobic values he espouses towards the state which gave him and his parents a home and him a musical education from which he benefits [as well as we do]..

          • Ah……. You and and he just have differing opinions……. And I thought by the time he was 10 his musical education was well advanced, and that two years after, he went to study conducting with Markevich in Salzburg and shortly after composition and harmony with Boulanger in Paris….a musical education as cosmopolitan as his own background…..

  9. Mark Stratford says:

    The BBC once showed rehearsal footage of DB seriously losing his temper with the East West Divan orchestra. And it was over in a flash !

    • Fabio Fabrici says:

      You mean he lost his contenance or showed his temper? Losing one’s temper sounds quite phlegmatic to me.

      • Actually, it is an often misunderstood word. A person’s “temper” is the quality of being able to diffuse their own anger, which is why when you get angry you “lose your temper.” As is temperate.

        • Fabio Fabrici says:

          English is not my mother tongue, but what about “he’s got a temper.”?
          My dictionary lists these synonyms for temper: anger, fit, furor, fury, hotheadedness, impatience, irascibility, ire, irritability, irritation, miff, outburst, passion, peevishness, petulance, pugnacity, rage, resentment, sensitivity, short fuse, sourness, tantrum…
          Maybe there are different meanings for the same word and it can also mean the opposite? Languages are funny sometimes.

          • James Ar. says:

            Losing one’s temper is correct. I could explain why, but you have a dictionary, you’ll get there… eventually…. hopefully.

          • “Having a temper” is a common phrase that means prone to anger. “Temper” is often used as a synonym for anger. It may not be strictly correct according whatever archaic definition of temper you might want to use, but the English language changes very fluidly and colloquial “misuses” of words or phrases sometimes take root remarkably quickly.

          • Esclarmonde says:

            Temper to soften – moderate – mitigate – harden

        • Mark Fishman says:

          In order to make a steel spring, you temper the steel. When a spring loses its temper, which can happen through overuse, heat, or a variety of other conditions, it will snap under pressure instead of bending. The same is true of a person: when he loses his temper, he snaps.

  10. Una Barry says:

    I was there too, and his rant in public was totally unacceptable, rude, and left many in the audience very uneasy and ashamed. As it was hot, the orchestra were outside and some of us spoke to them and asked what it was all about, two of which also play in his Divan Orchestra. We found out a few things, but so unprofessional.

  11. it could be an inside job: everybody thinks it’s all bad, but then it merely reaffirms the Berliners domination in the minds of mere mortals.

  12. Peter Freeman says:

    With great respect, the report is untrue on two counts. Firstly it was the night before last. The allegation that DB did not prolong the applause is wrong too. He picked out each section of the orchestra painstakingly and sportingly as usual. I was among the multitutde present who were unaware of the incident described.

    • It was at Valkyrie, and yes he did painstakingly to a fault pick out individuals and sections of the orchestra. But some of us thought he was trying to make amends as the BBC had spoken to him!

  13. Una Barry says:

    No, it’s Barenboim and nothing is good enough. If anyone made mistakes that night, it was him. Poor Nina Stemme ended up walking round the podium to get a lead to come in. He was somewhere else in his thoughts :). Fine if they all squabble in private, but not nasty, public rants. No excuse whatsoever, and I speak as a singer. It was just dreadful behaviour.

  14. I was standing mid-arena, and can attest that Barenboim was indeed gesticulating at the leader a few times during Act II, and was also unusually explicit in his beating with the singers at one point. Although the strings were incredibly responsive to gesture and dynamics, they did not always sound together, an issue that was painfully manifest in some of the the quasi-recitative textures and unison entries; I suspect that was the cause of Mr Barenboim’s ire, although I suppose it could have been that the double bass players were making rather exaggerated physical movements (at least two of them were grinning at each other as they made big arm gestures between tremolo notes).

    Any antipathy between Barenboim and the leader was not irreconcilable: they shook hands (as is routine) at the end (two of the singers also shook the leader’s hand — some of us jested that they were taking sides!).

  15. Kenneth Zammit Tabona says:

    Possibly Hundig may have had something to do with it?

  16. Peter Freeman says:

    Oh, the penalties of not listening with eyes shut, Anon!

  17. Fabio Fabrici says:

    He is visibly getting angry at his orchestra in Berlin all the time. Maybe you Londoners are simply not used to such Germanic barbarian behavior of an Argentinian Jew with Russian origins? ;)

    • stanley cohen says:

      Covering all your bases, Fabio?

      • The row clearly simmers on as there was a change of order in the front desk this evening and from the choir minimal and curt contact with the ‘portly one’ and before we get to derogatory I am portly myself. Jeremy

    • Not in public, and not at such a prestigious festival!

  18. Mark Stratford says:

    ===visible tongue-lashing at the end of Act II

    Sorry I don’t get it. Was it over the music towards the end of the Act , or during the applause ?

  19. DrewLewis says:

    Happily I have never had the misfortune to meet ‘Sr Fabrici’ in person, so I know nothing of his racial origins, cultural background or the grounds on which he feels free to infect this blog with pernicious and contemptible abuse. I hope he can be quickly redacted into silence.

    • Fabio Fabrici says:

      And I hope people who have nothing to add to the argument but only spit ad hominem venom will be quickly redacted into silence. I also fail to understand, what my racial origins or cultural background has to do with anything. As for my race, I’m homo sapiens, as we all are here. We are all the same human race here, aren’t we?

    • That’s not a fair way to talk.

  20. I was sitting in the stalls and saw this. I thought it was totally unacceptable and he should have waited until they were both backstage. Daniel B has never been one of my favourite people (and not saying this just because of htis particular incident) and my main reason for attending was that I adore the Ring but the fact that Bryn Terfel was singing was the reason I purchased a ticket else I would have listened at home.

    Hiatus in the last act when Nina Stemme was lost and Bryn walked over to her and she went past him as if it was part of the acting and when she came alongside DB she leaned across slightly and he brought her in. The orchestra played superbly and the entire cast were excellent and I think DB should be thoroughly ashamed of himself for his unprofessional behaviour.

    When Bryn came on for his solo bow before he took it he marched over to the concertmaster and shook his hand warmly and patted him on the shoulder. Wonder if he will be eager to sing with DB again? I wont be looking out for any of his concerts in the future

  21. Robert Kenchington says:

    Given that the Proms has in recent years turned into a kind of kids’ fairground where variety has come at the price of quality perhaps Mr Barenboim would like to be The Master in the Dr Who prom, while maybe the ’round of figure’ concertmaster could squeeze into a Dalek Costume….it’s either that or the Fat Controller when Roger Wright commissions a Thomas the Tank Engine night with the Nene Valley Philharmonic…

  22. I’m not surprised at DB’s behavior. My Israeli cousins, who lived in the same apartment building in Jerusalem as DB’s uncle, once told me that DB seemed to be a rather smug, obnoxious putz as a child when they saw him visiting.

    • stanley cohen says:

      As a rider I would observe that DB exhibits all of the traits of what Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks labels a self-loathing Jew. [redacted: abuse, off-topic]

      • John Hames says:

        It’s hardly a state secret that DB is Jewish, but while I don’t agree with harsh thread policing — many of the most interesting things in life are off-topic — I’m struggling to imagine what his Jewishness has to do with this incident! I daresay he was smug as a kid: most of the rest of us would probably have been a bit smug if we’d had his talent and been similarly feted. As for the “self-loathing Jew” stuff, it’s self-serving tripe. Any Jew who has any criticism of Israel’s policy towards the Palestinians is ipso fatso self-loathing, and his/her views can be disregarded as false consciousness? Perhaps they simply have a conscience.

        • I agree with you, John, that DB’s Jewishness has nothing at all to do with his obnoxious behavior. That does not diminish the fact that he acted extremely badly. There are others, surely more talented than DB who are far less obnoxious, though. He’s really not that good a pianist, as much as he would like to consider himself a pianist god.
          DB does, however, criticize Israel severely while never really having a harsh word for their Palestinian foes. He seems to be oblivious to the fact that the Palestinians slaughtered local Jews long before the state of Israel was established (Hebron, 1929) or that the grand mufti of Jerusalem supported Hitler during the Holocaust era and was practically wetting himself anticipating how he could assist in the massacre of local Jews as well as those in Iraq. I’ve never seen a word of criticism from Palestinians of this “great” man. Perhaps this is why many consider DB to be a self-hating Jew. Also, why many Jews suspect that non-Jews who celebrate criticism of Israel’s policy toward the Palestinians harbor just a “touch” of anti-semitism, if not absolute buckets-full.

          • I agree Mark. Barenboim is ever-so-anxious to conduct Wagner (a notorious anti-Semite) in Israel with no apology and a decidedly “up yours” air about him. It’s defeatist.

            And you’re right – he isn’t really that great of a pianist. I love watching his rendition of the third movement of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. He sweats that one out, BIG TIME. And his interpretation is sloppy and rushed. Thus, he has no real right to lord it over anyone else. We all make mistakes, and conductors are not longer considered demi-gods.

          • Fabio Fabrici says:

            Palestinians are semites, while many if not most Jews living in Israel are not. How can someone criticizing Israel’s position toward Palestinians be called “anti-semite” while in fact he is pro-semite? (or simply pro-humanity and pro-peace)

            Also Wagner was no Anti-Semite. The word didn’t even exist when he wrote his horrid diatribe about “Das Judentum…”. One could call him an Anti-Judaist maybe.

            It is interesting to watch as a bystander how much hate Daniel Barenboim gets from self-declared jewish commentators here, when in fact his whole mission about the Middle-East turmoil is one of love, understanding and shared humanity. He has certainly not deserved all the hatred. He deserves applause and support for this mission of trying to connect people through music. Shame on all the hate mongers.

          • stanley cohen says:

            Sorry Fabio but those Palestinians whose ancestors weren’t forcibly converted a couple of hundred years ago [from Judaism] are Hamites. Thus anti-Semite applies exclusively to Jews. As to your ‘theory’ that anti-Semitism didn’t exist in the earlier part of the 19th Century – well please try reading a few history books before you set ‘pen to paper’ in future.As to DB’s love, understanding and humanity, well just read what Mark says two posts up about the one-sided nature of his his love and understanding. I totally agree that this site is principally concerned with the world of music but we cannot ignore the influences from without which are brought to bear on personalities and evaluate them in a vacuum. Sorry!

          • Fabio Fabrici says:

            Sorry Stanley, your are totally wrong about the Palestinians being Hamites. They are Semites as close to the definition as it gets. AFAIK the term “Hamites” is not used by any serious academic or scholar because it has no anthropological justification and also has racist and supremacist connotations.
            You are also wrong about anti-semitism. This term was specifically coined in the second half of the 19th century as a consequence of the developing Zionist movement and it’s “invention” of the Jewish people as a homogenous ethnicity (which is a false construction and not backed by the science anyway, but a prerequisite for founding a nation state). A new term was needed that referred to an ethnicity, thus “anti-semitic” was thought up.
            So since the word didn’t exist before the end of the 19th century, there of course also was no anti-semitism. There was of course a lot of Anti-Judaism and general hatred of Jews as we all know. Today the term anti-semitism is colloquially – and without questioning it’s origin and definition – used for describing Anti-Jewish sentiments. When it comes to the Palestinians, then since they are Semites, it’s total nonsense to use the term for describing Pro-Palestinian sentiments.

          • stanley cohen says:

            I refuse to answer a post which claims that anti-Semitism did not exist before the 19th Century, particularly since the idea of Zionism was born at the time of the Roman invasion of Judea, just before the time of Jesus. While not given to ad hominem comment, I strongly recommend you read a few history books starting with the Roman conquest of the Levant, continuing with the excesses of the Crusaders, continuing with the pogroms of Middle Europe, the Spanish [and Portuguese] Inquisitions at the end of the 15th Century, the Blood Libels and Cossack pogroms of the subsequent centuries and ending with the saintly Pope John XXIII’s ‘suggestion’ that the Church stop blaming jews for Jesus’s death.

          • The term anti-semitism did not exist before 1881.

          • stanley cohen says:

            “Term,” Norman? How about ‘the oldest hatred in the world?’
            Seriously, do you need an etymological time-line to define it?
            Talk about rearranging deck-chairs on the Titanic!

          • John Hames says:

            I fear there isn’t much mileage in discussing this: it’s just too big. It just seems to me, though, based on attempts to engage with some Zionists at the more extreme end, that (a) if I can’t agree with them absolutely 100%, I’m just wrong, and (b) it’s very hard for a Jew to express any criticism of Israel’s policies, because of (a) and because they get psychoanalysed in absentia and found to be self-loathing. Isn’t it just a way of stifling debate?

          • BOb Burns says:

            This whole thread as devolved into ludicrousness. For God’s sake, how was the performance? Most here seem to say it went fine.

            Who cares if DB teed off on some fat – excuse me, portly – concertmaster, or that he’s a “self-loathing Jew” (Oh, brother!) with a temper and can’t play the piano? Gimme a break!

            Show me a conductor without (a) a temper and (b) highly defined ideas about how a work should sound and I’ll show you a 2nd rate conductor. When anyone here achieves what DB has achieved in life and in music, well, you *might* be granted a license to trash him here. Otherwise, best to keep your pettycoats from showing.

        • I love “ipso fatso”: the “portly” debate continues or freudian slip?

  23. A conductor getting mad at an orchestra if he feels something is going wrong during a performance? He should be hanged! (#sarcasm). Look, children–it’s his band for now. They play well for him, they like him enough. The consternation displayed in this comments section is ridiculous. And I am a fat man–Norman calling the concertmaster portly is descriptive (and diplomatic), not hurtful. Grow up–unclench your sphincter–and enjoy Wagner for its glorious moments, and possibly boring quarters of an hour. Be grateful you can be there in the fabulous AND gorgeous RAH to hear a good musician put a band through their paces in Wagner’s RING. We miss that in the USA.

  24. Richard Potter says:

    I love this comment thread!

  25. If it was the Berlin Staatskapelle playing, then presumably Barenboim and the concertmaster have a longstanding working relationship and know each other well.

    It could be that Barenboim was chewing the man out (yes, very inappropriate in front an audience). It could also be that Barenboim was simply doing some “did-you-hear-what-those-nincompoops-over-there-did?” venting to a colleague.

    Did any of you who saw the incident hear any of what was said?

    • Mark Reneau says:

      MWnyc raises a very good point. If the provocation originated in the bass section there is little chance the KM could have been the cause of DB’s ire–it’s all geography, and it possibly indicates a very good relationship between DB and the KM. In rehearsal, I’ve had some very interesting (though very quiet) asides fired in my direction from conductors — and even a few soloists. But for this to have occurred during a performance is genuinely disturbing.

      As for Norman’s comment on the KM’s avoirdupois, he doesn’t owe this portly concertmaster an apology. But, don’t call me tomorrow morning, I’ll be at the gym…

      • Theodore McGuiver says:

        I remember Barenboim screaming at the underpaid and overworked music staff for the fact that the person singing Aegisth in Elektra didn’t know his part properly. This was in front of the whole cast and orchestra. As if teaching the bloke his part had slipped their collective mind…

    • The German sitting next to me translated, and said Don’t ever do that to me again! But it was the anger that was vented that caused the offence. I was in Row 3 of the stalls, sideways on, and saw his mouth and heard him.

  26. Having been at the receiving end of the Maestro’s rage as leader of a 2nd violin section once, I can attest to the fact he is truly immersed in the music, he is and always will be a perfectionist, the smallest hint of something even remotely about to go south…..gets a reaction from him. At the end though, he always explained and made sure it was a learning curve to all involved. seems like he was unhappy with someone and decided to react in concert, I know he respects his musicians, especially his leaders….I know that from experience.

    • John Hames says:

      That’s very generous of you, Nati. We all know, from experience and/or observation, that conductors have to put up with countless irritations in every rehearsal, but it’s part of their training to learn to glide over these without blowing a gasket every time and abusing their power by blasting highly accomplished artists. (And they usually yell at the wrong person anyway.) I’m a bit fed up with “perfectionism” being used as an excuse for lousy behaviour. Most musicians are perfectionists, in certain areas at least, but life is full of frustrations. Screaming like a brat when things don’t entirely go to plan is unattractive in anyone, let alone world-class maestri. Mahler has a lot to answer for. . .

    • Steve Foster says:

      Well said. Unfortunately, most have already designated their Goliath in this battle.
      The saddest thing about this story is the heavy liberties the journalists and commentators take over what the dispute was about, when all of the accounts clearly state that no one knows. Maybe they’ll realise the title ‘perfectionist’ is what made Barenboim what he is.

  27. It certainly wasn’t an aside. Barenboim was livid (=red in the face) and shouting. He stomped off in a fury. And I can’t understand all the fulsome praise of the performance. To me the performance often lacked the vigour and sheer excitement that I have heard in other performances (even by Barenboim) although clearly the playing was beautiful throughout. I notice that at least one other reviewer thought the ‘Ride’ lacked excitement. and there have been several comments about the ‘control’ — which was obvious.

  28. Elvis Presley says:

    Das alles hatte nichts mit dem Orchester zu tun!! Der Meister hat einfach nur ein Ego Problem. Denn offensichtlich hat Bryn Terfel ihm sein “Show” gestohlen, ihn wie Luft behandelt und das hatte ihn so fuchsig gemacht, dass letzten Endes das Orchester es ausbaden musste. Wie jämmerlich!

    • Fabio Fabrici says:

      Wie viele Proben gab es mit Terfel? (How many rehearsals were there with Terfel?)

  29. Rose Panieri says:

    I’ve heard Barenboim used to be the bane of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, with his tantrums, demands, temper and sarcasm. He’s a good conductor, and a great pianist. However, there is no longer as much tolerance for the “temperamental genius” mentality. Great musicians can also be modest, i.e., Itzhak Perlman and Yo Yo Ma.

    • Fabio Fabrici says:

      What ever was going on between DB and the Konzertmeister. They have been doing this many times together, this year alone DB has conducted several Ring cycles, but always in the pit, where such exchanges are common since the audience can hardly notice it.
      Maybe DB, caught in the routine, forgot in this moment of disappointment, that he now was on the podium and not in the pit, visible to everyone.

      • Barenboim has worked enough in Britain to know what is and is not acceptable. He certainly improved a lot lazt night, and tomorrow is the last night. I think he’s got the message!

  30. Mark Peters says:

    We were nearing the end of a six evening run of Parsifal at the Palau de les Artes in Valencia. The young principal cellist turned to smile at his stand partner as the last page of the very fat score came into view, thereby eliciting a no-holds-barred tirade in French from the maestro, none other than Loren Maazel, who stooped to using oaths, perfectly audible to many in the audience, fully rupturing the wonderfully transcendent atmosphere of those culminating moments and making quite clear the extent to which he “lives” the music.

  31. Gurnemanz says:

    The thickest book about classical music that will ever be written will be titled “Famous conductors’ rants against their orchestras”. This story is essentially a storm in a teacup.

    • I disagree. This story illustrates beautifully the difference between the Maestro coming on to take his bow and loving it all and taking his due and then we see the other side. I am not so naive to assume that all conductors are calm and sweet and nice all the time. In a recent interview with Sir Colin Davis shortly before his death, he admitted that he had been arrogant and upset people and orchestras hated him. One day he made up his mind that he would rather be a good human being than a good conductor and, of course, ended up being both.

      If Db wants to have a go at his concertmaster fine – just wait until you are backstage please.

  32. Fabio Fabrici says:

    BBC has the recording of the live broadcast online.

    What happened in Act III (4:28:00)? Stemme starts quite right (“weil für Dich im Auge…”) then stops, tries to start again and is audibly totally lost. Then Terfel eight bars later sings her part with her to cue her back in at “die im Kampfe Wotan…”.

    I wonder they put this online for everyone to listen. There is very beautiful playing and singing, but there is also a lot of mistakes, bad intonation and messy timing happening, unusual for this otherwise very well rehearsed ensemble (except for Terfel) that has many performances of the Ring under their belt. Too many “Aushilfen” in the orchestra due to summer holidays of regular staff? Everybody, including Barenboim, tired from a stressful season?

    • She just came to a grinding halt and Barenboim did nothing. I have been at performances where this has happened and the conductor is onto it in a flash, gives them the cue and off they go. He did not even turn round There was a hiatus and you could feel the worry going round the audience. Bryn, staying in character, walked slowly towards her and whispered the line in her ear and then she was off and was ok for the rest of the evening.

      Should mention that when Bryn came on to take his solo bow he walked straight over to the concertmaster and shook his hand

      Have been reading all the comments on here with interest. I do not care if you are Einstein and a genius that does not excuse rudeness. If DB wanted to have a go at his concertmaster he should have waited until they were backstage.

      • Fabio Fabrici says:

        Hardly something to blame Barenboim for. She missed her cue. Has was conducting his back to her. She saw him on the monitor. There is no way to bring her in on that eight bar phrase without turning around and singing the part to her and thus making the slip obvious to everyone in the audience and patronizing her in front of thousands. Had he done that everybody would be mad at him for exposing her little mistake so obviously. She came in on the next possible cue, with a little help from Terfel. Hardly DB’s fault. He did the only thing he could do, keep the rest in order. Had she not come in 8 bars later, then maybe he would have become a little more “active” in setting her back on track but it wasn’t necessary.

        • I disagree again. He should have turned round and brought her in. And as for not making it obvious, we already knew!

          • A fully engaged opera conductor (for example Charles Mackerras) would have brought her back in within half a bar. Max. I’d heard/seen him realign an errant offstage entry in as little time.

          • As a singer, I also disagree. It was his job to help, and any conductor of merit would have done. He just went in waving his arms!

          • Fabio Fabrici says:

            RB, that’s nonsense. That’s an armchair conductor comment. Singers are not machines. Stemme had a blackout. Her line in those 8 bars was syncopated. The orchestra was playing polyrhythmic texture. This is not a Verdi stretta or a Mozart aria, where you just jump in on the next downbeat.

        • Fabio – I think you are DB and I claim myprize!!

      • I agree totally with all if this. Never helped Nina Steme, yet gave Terfel more cues than anyone else!

        • Fabio Fabrici says:

          Because Terfel is the only one of the cast who not regularly performed the Ring with Barenboim already. People, please stop this silly badly informed speculations.

    • “I wonder they put this online for everyone to listen.” Because, as part of the concerts which are available online for 7 days, this live performance was not going to be deleted or edited by the BBC: that would have been completely unacceptable. NIna Stemme’s temporary lapse – for which many seem to blame Barenboim’s cueing (cueing singers who are behind you as at the Proms and who have their back to you as Stemme had at the time is hardly easy), but which I suggest may be because there did not seem to be a prompter – is something that occasionally happens in live performances. This should remind us what an amazing feat of memory, skill, interpretation and stamina is displayed in the performance of a Wagner opera.

      • There are TV monitors infront of the singers between the stage and the barrier by the front row of the promenaders: the conductor is therefore always visible. Although I certainly agree with with Michael’s last sentence!

      • We don’t have prompters in this country as some others do.

  33. Robert Kenchington says:

    At least Barenboim didn’t resort to physical assaults against his victims. Karajan used to hit people in recording sessions, Karl Bohm used to spit at people during concerts and Sir Adrian Boult once threw someone down a flight of stairs because they were talking in rehearsal. Even the saintly Carlo Maria Giulini once threw a chair at Robert Tear when the tenor accused the maestro of playing God. And then there was Toscanini…par for the course, I’m afraid!

    • Clive Barda said of his photo of Sir Adrian Boult “…. this photo which seems to connect one with a bygone age of gentleman musicians.”
      The throwing someone down a flight of stairs incident you describe contradicts that image.

      • Robert Kenchington says:

        Underneath that gentlemanly exterior and calm podium manner, Boult was possessed of a fiery temper which was notorious in orchestral circles. Indeed, he remained tetchy well into his eighties. Richard Baker once told me how Boult stormed out of a television interview because it ran over time,saying ‘I’m not a nice old man, you know!” He also took a swing at John Amis, nearly hitting him in the jaw, and even Michael Kennedy’s otherwise reverential biography of Boult can’t help mentioning cases of physical assault against anyone who interfered with his rehearsals. Small wonder then, that our grand old man of English music was nicknamed ‘The British Toscanini’!

  34. Iain Scott says:

    It’s not unknown for Barenboim to have a go at his leader as his son ,who I think let the Eat West Divan Orchestra ,indicated in one of the BBC interviews last year.
    Whatever the case I always enjoy comments from scrawny elderly critics.. Not a judgement you understand just a word picture.

  35. Mark Stratford says:

    ==Karajan used to hit people in recording sessions,

    I heard that when HvK conducted ECYO, one of the cellists stamped his feet in appreciation at the end of the performance and Herbie quite savagely elbowed him in the ribs.

    • Robert Kenchington says:

      Then there was the occasion when Bernard Miles needed stitches after Otto Klemperer whacked him with his walking stick…

    • Michael Schaffer says:

      Those stories are almost certainly fake.Whatever his many others flaws may have been, Karajan was actually known to never lose his temper, never raise his voice, and typically end rehearsals early. He did not like confrontations. He was more a distanced, behind-the-scenes-scheming guy who was also very concerned about maintaining appearance. The idea that he would “quite savagely elbow” someone “in the ribs” on stage in front of everybody is ridiculous. A friend of mine who played in the ECYO in that year told me they were actually all surprised how nice Karajan was to the young musicians, he even invited them to sit down and eat together which he almost never did.

      Apparently he had found out that in the age of the tyrannical maestro (Toscanini, Szell etc) he grew up in, actually being friendly with the musicians helped him and made it much easier to get what he wanted from them. I am guessing he also had to cultivate this friendly – some even called it overly friendly – way of interacting with the musicians when he worked for Legge in London after the war because standing in front of a bunch of English musicians just a few years after the war as a former representative of NS Germany was, obviously, a very sensitive situation.

      • paul myers says:

        Here we go again! I worked with George Szell for nearly ten years and, although he was formal and did not seek to be everyone’s “buddy”,. he showed his players the greatest respect, basically because he was very proud of them, and the word ‘tyrannical” would be totally incorrect . In fact, if a player played a wrong note more than once, he would ask to see the music part, assuming that there could be a misprint. He also had a good sense of humour, and would joke quite often with them in rehearsal. I think the words ‘tyrannical’and ‘cold’ may have followed experiencing lesser quality in Europe (pace English critics)because he knew his beloved Clevelanders could outplay most of the English (and other) orchestras. But then, taking pot-shots at American orchestras has been a popular British pastime. My guess is that one of the reasons for this was that American recordings were closer and brighter than many of their European counterparts, to suit local taste. In fact, I know that, at one time, EMI ‘brightened’ the sound of their records for the American market. I think a better balance was restored when Decca signed Solti/Chicago, and his recordings had a more natural mid-Atlantic sound. Certainly, some of the European recordings of that era sounded as though they were being recorded in a swimming-pool..

        • Sorry Moderator, but this opens a new can of worms. When CBS/Sony reissued their “Stravinsky Edition” on CD in 1991, producer John McClure, interviewed by BBC R4 (I think), went off at a tangent to apologise for the close balance of their Bernstein reissues, which reflected Lenny’s preference for the sound he heard from the podium. A couple of years or so earlier, a friend who worked for DG said they were concerned over criticism of the “artificial” sound on their recordings of Bernstein (see above) and Karajan (who wanted lots of mikes and channels so he could manipulate the sound afterwards).

          I write as a huge fan of Bernstein (less so Karajan), and believing the performance is more important than the sound, but with respect to you as a proper musician, could you be unduly influenced by the sound you hear onstage? Solti’s Chicago Beethoven Symphony cycle was unnaturally close and dry (odd for Decca).

          If you can, check out Stenhammar’s Second Symphony conducted by Stig Westerberg on Caprice (LP or AAD- ie. not tampered with- CD) in 1978. Swedish Radio engineer, two mikes, non-dolby analogue Revox tape deck. This is (almost) how an orchestra sounds from a good seat in a decent hall. Underrated piece too!

          • paul myers says:

            I don’t wish to extend this argument too far, but one of the reasons that Szell’s recordings were criticized for being ‘too close’ was that the old Severance Hall (where the Clevelanders play) had rather dry acoustics. There were other halls, but Szell refused them, pointing out that he had spent five rehearsals balancing a work for performance (and ‘balance’ was a key word in every Szell reading), and he did not want to start again in a new location. Various producers tried different methods (including making an ‘echo-chamber’ out of the men’s lavatory, which worked very well until someone pulled the chain in the slow movement of the Schubert ‘Unfinished’. I understand that Severance, after an $80 million refurbishment, now has excellent acoustics. I wish Szell could have lived to experience them.
            Finally, we could all spend the next week arguing about ‘good sound’ The Albert Hall? The Festival Hall? From which seat? I believe recorded sound very often offers the listener something in clarity and suitable depth that is rarely available anywhere, but that’s another argument.

  36. I have just now had a conversation with some of the orchestra members: the explosion was not directed AT the KM, but it was ABOUT another player who seriously screwed up; there was absolutely no acrimony between DB and the KM as was obvious in the Siegfried rehearsal the following day. Whether it should have happened at all is of course still a matter of debate….

  37. Larry W says:

    Perfectionism is a false ideal, the pursuit of an immaculate deception. In remembrance of his personal god, Daniel needs a neck lanyard that reads WWFD- What Would Furtwängler Do?

  38. Peter Freeman says:

    I wonder whether DB reads SD or has its deliberations reported to him. That might explain why last night the “portly” concertmaster, or leader as we say this side of the pond, was demoted a chair. The programme credits two , so maybe they take it in turns anyway. However, DB did pat the one he was supposed to have berated on the cheek when shaking hands, so maybe this has all been a brouhaha in a teacup with no love lost by offender or offended. Or maybe DB does heed this battleground! Whichever, it was a wonderful concert, as audience response showed.

  39. Barenboim is (was?) a brilliant pianist (viz. his 1960s- ’70s EMI Beethoven Sonatas and Mozart Concertos). But he really should shut up on music and politics. Recently in Radio Times, he said Wagner’s anti-semitism wasn’t reflected in the music. If the Niebelungs and Beckmesser aren’t caricatures of Jews, I’m an Israeli (which I’d be proud to be, though not Jewish).

    • Mr Oakmountain says:

      Please explain how exactely Beckmesser is – in your opinion – a caricature of a Jew. I always thought he was a caricature of a pompous ass who’s too much in love with himself (especially when sung BEAUTIFULLY and not rantingly as seems to be the case sometimes. Roland Hermann in Jochum’s recording does a brilliant job).

    • Michael Hurshell says:

      @ Mark H: Disregarding for the moment the subject of what exactly DB was doing (the discussion here ranges from “ranting at the KM” to “ranting at others” etc., seems very confused), and disregarding the frantic burst of applause at the end of act 2 (I listened to the podcast), I’d like to ask you: what exactly makes the Nibelungs (check your spelling) “caricatures of Jews”…? Yes, I kow many contemporary Regisseurs assume this, and I know there are increasing numbers of publications on the subject, but no one seems to be able to point out a pertinent line of text or a relevant bar number. Could you enlighten me?

      • As you say, it’s a common inference, not explicit in the music or libretto. Wagner was a revolutionary socialist, who saw Jews as enemies of the establishment of a more equitable society which might disadvantage them (I wonder if he ever heard of Marx?!). The Nibelungs want to replace the Gods with themselves, so stand in the way of humanity freeing itself from the domination of others.
        I haven’t anything more concrete to offer, but perhaps their is no conclusive evidence either way.

        • All is sweetness and light double handshakes warmth and happiness. Something to do with the tarnhelm? Jeremy

        • Michael Hurshell says:

          Um…. no. Wager was a pragmatist, whose political outlook vacillated depending on whomever he expected to support his art. (Socialist, Royalist, Republican…) In any case, “common inference” is certainly no argument. In fact, Wagner’s music dramas focus on a wide array of human frailties and strengths. Anti-Semitism simply isn’t in there. “The Nibelungs” is also not really a fitting POV, as there are two individuals (Alberich and Mime) who are mostly rivals; we don’t hear from the other Nibelungs. Alberich is a tragic figure. He is no more a Jewish caricature than Beckmesser. Too bad so many Regisseurs keep harping on this insupportable theory.

  40. I heard him live in London do all the Beethoven sonatas in 2007/8 season. Brilliant playing and interpretation! But he only had himself to shout at:)

  41. See who ends up as the Concert Master tomorrow :)

    Good night to you all and good-Bye. Over and out!

  42. Have very much enjoyed reading this thread and all the comments. Some of us do not care for DB’s behaviour and some rush to his defence. I still maintain that behaviour like this should be kept out of sight of the audience and any berating done backstage. This should not detract in the end from a wonderful evening though I do have my reservations about his conducting of the Ring, but that is for another discussion some day

  43. DB was completely out-of-order in my opinion but is it too simplistic to blame the heat on this occasion even though he does have a certain reputation? Memories still remain with me of extremely uncomfortable steamy conditions in a box at the RAH on many occasions in the 60′s, 70′s and 80′s. Such a shame that air-conditioning is not on the cards.

    • I do not think it is such a shame that we have no air‐conditioning: such systems considerably augment the *constant* background noise, which would be even more ruinous than the extremely high temperatures that occur only *occasionally* in this country.

  44. Barenboim is great. You guys should listen to him. He speaks sense.

    If religions didn’t exist, what would have happened?

    • This conversation has, over the comments, gone off on a tangent. This has nothing to do with him speaking sense, what his religion is or how he feels about anti-Semtism etc etc. It has all to do with good manners, not losing your temper in front of an audience and not humiliating your concertmaster.

      That is all

  45. DB tore into the Act 1 prelude ferociously on Tuesday night and yet there were times mid-act when his beat was scarcely visible (as had been the case in Rheingold). I don’t know the mistake well enough to comment on what the problem was – but I do know an angry conductor when I see one. After the incident he just marched off.

    In Act II his cueing of the 1st violins was particularly pointed and he’d got more of his cuffs showing – sure sign someone has missed something. Act III much the same – though there was a tension in both acts which seemed to degrade the musical experience somewhat – I don’t think the singers were entirely comfortable. Things were certainly patched up by Friday the co-leaders had swapped chairs but DB warmly thanked them both.

    The playing certainly wasn’t immaculate on Tues or indeed on any of the nights so far – they make a beautiful sound but not necessarily all at the same time. Stefan Dohr in the horn section was doing great things, the winds were fine if not given much to play with. Star player for me was Thomas Luker on tuba – v secure and sensitive but can fill the hall when necessary.

    The BBC Symphony Orchestra were better drilled last night. But the Berliners did have to suffer some outrageous heat – not just from DB – during Walküre….

    • “They make a beautiful sound but not necessarily all at the same time.”

      That one belongs in the quote book. Marvelous.

  46. Sorry for typo above: “music” not “mistake”

  47. Neil van der Linden says:

    This is becoming a manual for conductors. Love it..

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