Revered conductor Daniel Barenboim blew away audiences and critics alike when he brought his Staatskapelle Berlin to the Sydney Opera House last year for a complete Brahms symphony cycle. The outspoken musician, a fierce advocate for music education and peace in the Middle East (founding the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra with that in mind), was lauded for his passionate speech following the second concert in Sydney, dedicating the performance to “the first creative inhabitants of this continent.”
Daniel Barenboim conducting the Staatskapelle Berlin at the Sydney Opera House. Photo © Peter Adamik
An article published by VAN Magazine, The Titan’s Shadow, however, paints a picture of a darker side to Barenboim’s success, apparently drawing on interviews with current and former staff, musicians and administrators.
“In musical circles, Barenboim’s temper is legendary,” allege the writers, Jerffrey Arlo Brown and Hartmut Welscher. “He has thrown fits because a violist rolled his eyes, because a singer bowed in the wrong place, because a favoured principal player was on vacation. He once berated a musician who lacked concentration because someone in their immediate family had died. He has insulted a doctor who said that a performer with a stomach flu was too sick to play. On at least two occasions, he has allegedly grabbed and shaken members of his staff in anger.”
The article quotes a current employee at the Staatsoper Berlin – where Barenboim has been Music Director since 1992 and Principal Conductor for Life of the house’s orchestra, the Staatskapelle Berlin, since 2000 – describing the work environment as “a climate of fear”.
The Staatsoper Berlin is quoted in the article as saying, “At no time have we been made aware of problematic behaviour by Daniel Barenboim, who performs at the highest level.”
“In over a dozen interviews with current and former employees of Barenboim, a picture emerges of a leader who can be inspiring and generous, but also authoritarian, mercurial, and frightening,” the article says. “The interviews also reveal a system in which too much power has been concentrated in a single person’s hands.” The sources spoke with VAN Magazine anonymously, “citing fear of professional retribution”.
Limelight approached Staatsoper Berlin for comment following the article’s publication. “We will not be releasing a statement to an article that is based on anonymous allegations and we cannot confirm the allegations,” a spokesperson for the company said.
Whether or not the behaviours alleged in the VAN Magazine article are true, there was no outwardly visible sign of any acrimony during the Australian tour, with Barenboim gleefully shaking the hands of every single orchestra member on stage after the final performance.