From Chicago Tribune:
Barenboim on Barenboim: His life, his health, his future
By John von Rhein
Tribune music critic
October 17, 2004
This has been a tumultuous year for Daniel Barenboim.
In early February, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's music director was sidelined with the flu, missing several subscription concerts, which went to the Lyric's Andrew Davis. Then came his surprise announcement that he will resign at the end of the 2005-06 season, followed by an abortive attempt by some CSO musicians to force an internal vote of confidence. In September, Barenboim was stricken once again, this time with painful herniated discs in his back. He withdrew from conducting engagements here and in Berlin, a piano recital tour of the West Coast and BMG recording sessions with violinist Nikolaj Znaider. Once again, Davis filled in for him on the subscription series while Barenboim recuperated.
All this seems to have reminded the Israeli-born conductor and pianist, who turns 62 on Nov. 15, that the former wunderkind virtuoso famed for his voracious appetite for making music cannot try to do as much, cannot push himself so strenuously, as he once did.
That idea was among the topics of two conversations I had with him before his belated return to Symphony Center this week, when he will direct two subscription programs and perform Book I of J.S. Bach's "Well-Tempered Clavier" in recital Oct. 24.
Q. One local newspaper suggested you had injured your back while conducting. But that wasn't the case, was it?
A. What happened was I fell in a restaurant in the south of Spain where I had gone with my wife, Elena, last summer to celebrate a friend's birthday. When I went to sit down on a chair that was being held for me by the owner, I missed the chair and fell on my back onto a stone floor. I was lucky: A few centimeters in the other direction, and I would have fallen on my head.
For the first 10 days or so, I felt nothing more than some pain from the bruises and some stiffness in my back. An osteopath told me not to worry. Then, little by little, the problem started. I began feeling pins and needles in my hands, then a pain in my neck. It got worse and worse. Only then did I have X-rays taken. They noticed four vertebrae were misplaced, a nerve was pinching and the muscle under one arm was torn.
Recuperating has been very fatiguing. It has taken more time than I expected -- I'm very impatient with that. You have remarked that I tend toward slow tempi. Obviously, it's not only when I play music -- it's an integral part of my organism! (laughs).
But I'm getting better, and I have practically no pain. I'm practicing piano nearly every day. Last week I played a piano recital in Madrid to see how it would feel. I managed to play practically without any effort. So, whatever you don't like about my piano playing, don't connect it with my back condition -- just write, "He's no good"! (laughs)
Q. At the time you announced your resignation from the CSO, you said you no longer had the time or energy to shoulder the many "non-artistic activities" the administration was requiring of you. But your decision must have been based on other factors too. Didn't you also ask to have your annual residencies at Symphony Center reduced from three to two?
A. I only said I would stay [beyond 2006] if I could spend less time in Chicago. William Strong [the board chairman] and Deborah Card [CSO president] wanted me to give them more time, not only to conduct but also to do more community work, which to me means more social activities. When I heard that, I thought to myself, "I have been a practicing musician for 54 years, and now I'm supposed to give Chicago two more weeks a season, without making any music?" That's not what I'm about. That's not for me.
There was no pressure from anybody to resign. There was simply my understanding that the priorities are changing.
Q. You have suggested that the pace of holding two major podiums in Chicago and Berlin, while playing recitals and guest conducting elsewhere, has lately become too hectic and demanding, even for a chronic workaholic such as yourself.
A. Throughout my career I always had to choose: Do I push myself too hard and play a recital, or do I rest and risk being out of practice? I have always worked under that kind of schedule. I would finish a [CSO] engagement on a Saturday night, get on a plane on Sunday and often go directly to the Berlin Staatsoper from the airport, because I was already late for the rehearsal. I can't go on living like this.
Q. Are you leaving with any feeling of animosity toward the administration or the orchestra?
A. There is no animosity on my side. I disagree with the way [Strong and Card], and America, in general, look at the role of music director. The symphony orchestra culture in America has changed over the last 10 years. It's all very well to say the subscriptions are down here; that's true all over. They are down because music has lost a large part of its place in American society. That's an illness, but we are dealing with the symptoms in the wrong way.
It's wrong to [patronize] the public by saying, "You don't know anything about music, but you will have a good time if we make the music more palatable." The fact is that music is available to anybody who wants it. The problem is that 90 percent of the world's population doesn't know anything about it and therefore doesn't want it. I think [management] needs the freedom to make more popular programs they think will get more public in. They want to do more of that. I don't blame them, even if I think it's wrong.
I have told them that this season is the last in which I will take responsibility for the entire year's programming. From the day I decided I am not staying, they should have the freedom to engage whomever they like; until now, this was my responsibility. So, for my last season, 2005-06, I am only taking responsibility for my programs. They [Card and Strong] also asked me to help them find a successor. I will never do that.
Q. You have been conducting the Chicago Symphony since 1970, appearing as guest fully two decades before being named music director. You have built a sizable musical capital with the orchestra and its public over those 34 years. Yet you said earlier this year you do not intend to return as laureate conductor after 2006. Why?
A. Believe me, my not coming back as a guest conductor is not an emotional issue. It's basically that once I am no longer music director, I will have other priorities. It's not that I will suddenly go and guest conduct in Cleveland and Boston. No. I don't know, at this point, whether I will have more to do with the [Chicago Symphony] or not. You should never say never!
I worry that, in my final season, there may not be enough weeks to do all the things I would like to do. I want to repeat some of the important works of which I gave the first performances. I want to play some of the works I have been conducting here for 30 years that have a special meaning for me and the orchestra. I would like to do a retrospective of works we have commissioned. There certainly will be newly commissioned pieces, including one from Elliott Carter -- we will see whether he writes a sad or happy piece!
Also, we are discussing going back to Lucerne and to Carnegie Hall in 2005-06. And we are talking about the possibility of our first tour of mainland China.
Q. Was it your intention to change the musical character of the orchestra you inherited from Georg Solti, to make it an American version of your Berlin Staatskapelle, or another venerable European orchestra?
A. No, of course not. First of all, the Chicago Symphony has been a great orchestra for a very long time; it is the envy of many [cities]. In America, professionalism is viewed as the highest form of moral behavior, more so than in Europe. The CSO's level of professionalism is unique in the world. I can change the way they play; I can educate them; I can inspire them; I can bore them -- whatever. But, in the end, they produce the sound.
What I wanted to change, a little bit, was their attitude. "Tell us how you want it," they said. I have found that American orchestral musicians, not only those in Chicago, are there to react -- not to act. I wanted to change that. To a great extent, I think I have. On the other hand, I feel the working atmosphere [at the CSO] and the results of what we do have not, in any way, changed at all.
Q. Yet there have been reports you have lost your temper with management and some of the players when you didn't feel your prerogatives were being respected, and that you had threatened to resign on at least one occasion before last February.
A. I have spoken my mind. Sure. Always.
Q. With the previous CSO administration as well?
A. Oh, yeah. I didn't threaten to resign. During one particular season I remember thinking that maybe it was enough and I should leave. It came at a low point when I was unhappy with the musical results -- a difficult moment before there came a change of [older personnel] in the orchestra. I think some players don't always give as much of their souls as they are able to give. I expect a great artist who plays in an orchestra to have a point of view and to adjust that point of view to the section and the conductor.
Q. Was it ever your game plan to match Solti's 22-year record as CSO music director?
A. I count my years [as music director] from 1989, because I shared [the podium] for two years with Solti and had to do all the auditions when I was music director designate. That makes 17 years -- I think it is enough. We have done a lot of wonderful things, the orchestra and I. I will go away with sadness. I was unhappy I couldn't be here in September. As for now, I am looking forward to these next two weeks and the rest of the season.
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