Pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim has announced that he is taking a step back from performing, after being diagnosed with a 'serious neurological condition'.

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'It is with a combination of pride and sadness that I announce today that I am taking a step back from some of my performing activities, especially conducting engagements, for the coming months,' Barenboim told his followers on Twitter.

Barenboim, 79, had previously cancelled a series of concerts earlier in 2022, citing health reasons. Now, he has revealed that he will be dropping further engagements over the next few months.

'My health has deteriorated over the last months,' Barenboim reveals. 'I must now focus on my physical well-being,' he continues, before concluding that 'I have lived all my life in and through music, and I will continue to do so as long as my health allows me to.'

Picture of composer and pianist Daniel Barenboim
Composer and pianist Daniel Barenboim, who has announced that he will be stepping back from live performance over the coming months

Daniel Barenboim was born in Argentina in 1942, to Jewish parents. Both his mother and father were piano teachers, and Barenboim has recalled how 'in my childish brain, everyone played the piano!'. The young Barenboim was already making his name as a talented pianist: he gave his first formal concert in Buenos Aires in 1950, aged just seven.

Two years later, the family moved to Israel: then, in 1954, the young Barenboim went to Salzburg to learn conducting from Igor Markevitch. During that summer he also met and played for the great conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler, who would remain a key musical inspiration throughout Barenboim's life.

Indeed, Furtwängler labelled the young pianist a 'phenomenon' and invited him to play Beethoven's Piano Concerto No.1 with the Berlin Philharmonic. Barenboim's father declined the offer, believing that the trauma of war was still too recent for a Jewish boy to perform in Germany. Beethoven, however, would be another key figure in Barenboim's musical life, both as pianist and conductor.

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The following year, Barenboim took up harmony and composition lessons with the teacher and composer Nadia Boulanger, who also taught Burt Bacharach, Aaron Copland and Sir John Eliot Gardiner among many others.
The performer married the British cellist Jacqueline du Pré in Jerusalem in 1967. They remained together until du Pré's death in 1987. He later married the Russian pianist Elena Bashkirova.

As conductor, Barenboim enjoyed various prominent appointments. He served as music director of the Orchestre de Paris from 1975 to 1989 and of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra from 1991 to 2006. He has also been music director at the Berliner Staatsoper and Staatskapelle Berlin since 1992.

In 1999, meanwhile, Barenboim joined forces with Palestinian-American academic Edward Said to create the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, which every year brings together a group of young classical musicians from Israel, the Palestinian territories and Arab countries to study and perform together, and to promote mutual reflection and understanding.

It was this role in particular that saw Barenboim receive an honorary knighthood in 2011. The highest honour available to foreign citizens, the award was a recognition of Barenboim's work towards reconciliation in the Middle East through music.

As pianist, meanwhile, Barenboim has performed a huge repertoire – including no fewer than four complete cycles of the Beethoven piano sonatas, the last one recorded during the 2020 COVID lockdown.

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We interviewed Daniel Barenboim for BBC Music Magazine in April of this year, ahead of his 80th birthday. In that interview, the great pianist and conductor spoke eloquently about the joys – and the discipline – of music making. 'What is, ultimately, perhaps the most difficult lesson for the human being – learning to live with discipline yet with passion, with freedom yet with order – is evident in any single phrase of music.’

Authors

Steve Wright
Steve WrightMulti-Platform Content Producer, BBC Music Magazine

Steve has been an avid listener of classical music since childhood, and now contributes a variety of features to BBC Music’s magazine and website. He started writing about music as Arts Editor of an Oxford University student newspaper and has continued ever since, serving as Arts Editor on various magazines.