Daniel Barenboim Seemed Untouchable. Now He’s Accused of Bullying.
Daniel Barenboim, one of the world’s most celebrated conductors, is known for doing what he wants.
Barenboim, 76, has long been considered untouchable in Berlin, where he is music director of the Staatsoper — the city’s premier opera house — and principal conductor for life of its orchestra, the Staatskapelle. He is close to city politicians and has used his influence to ensure the opera company receives a healthy annual subsidy of 50.4 million euros ($57.4 million) from Berlin’s government.
But cracks have begun to emerge in the conductor’s image as Barenboim has been accused of bullying and humiliating members of the Staatskapelle. The accusations have been reported widely in German media, and there have been calls for politicians to intervene.
The New York Times has communicated with seven former or current members of the Staatskapelle. All highlighted examples of Barenboim’s behavior that they said was bullying and went beyond what was normal for a conductor.
Barenboim dismissed the accusations. In an email exchange with The Times, he denied bullying anyone. “Bullying and humiliating someone,” he wrote, “implies the intention of wanting to cause someone hurt, of taking pleasure in it, even. This is not in my character.”
Highhanded behavior was common in conductors of the last century, with maestros like Arturo Toscanini and Georg Solti known as harsh taskmasters.
“The issue is not personal, but a question of how orchestras are run in the 21st century,” Martin Reinhardt, a trombonist in the Copenhagen Philharmonic who played in the Staatskapelle and has openly criticized Barenboim’s behavior, said in a statement.
Barenboim said that the accusations were part of a campaign to stop him from continuing as music director of the Staatsoper. “The fact these allegations have surfaced now, just as I am in negotiations about renewing my contract beyond 2022,” he wrote in the email exchange, “makes me wonder: If people were indeed hurt, as they claim to have been, why speak about it now, at this precise moment?
Barenboim acknowledged that the world is changing. “That is generally a good thing,” he said. But, he added, “an orchestra cannot function if every tempo, every dynamic is put up for a democratic vote. Somebody has to lead, take decisions and be ultimately responsible.”
文／Alex Marshall and Christ 譯／李京倫