This week that giant of classical music Daniel Barenboim is in London playing the Proms. But there’s another Barenboim in town, too.
Michael Barenboim is the 26-year-old son from the conductor’s second marriage and the young violinist is quietly beginning to emerge from his father’s shadow. Jessica Duchen meets him and we bring you a fabulous film of father and son playing Schubert’s wonderful Trout Quintet with members of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra.
You might recognise Michael from the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra (WEDO), the inspirational ensemble founded by Barenboim senior and the Palestinian writer Edward Said in which Israeli musicians play alongside colleagues from Arab nations. He joined it aged 14, became its leader nine years ago and has grown up with the orchestra. “I don’t think I’ve yet missed a session,” he muses. “I wouldn’t miss it for anything!”
On 24 July Michael is the soloist in Pierre Boulez’s Anthèmes 2 for violin and live electronics, part of the orchestra’s week-long Beethoven and Boulez series at the Proms. One advantage of being Daniel Barenboim’s son, he admits, is that he was able to play to Boulez himself.
“The first time I almost didn’t know what I was doing, because you know you’re playing for one of the most important people in the history of music and it’s scary!” he laughs. “But he is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. He’s patient, knowledgeable, likeable, witty, and playing with him is a wonderful experience which I will never forget.
“I’m a great admirer of his work. It has had a huge impact on the development of contemporary music after the Second World War until now, but it is also great music in itself.”
Michael says that his father’s mix of deep thinking and spontaneity is possibly the magic ingredient in his musicianship and personality alike: “He’s not only very energetic, he also thinks about things in a certain way and this combination makes him what he is, both in music and outside it.”
It’s clear that there are similarities and differences between father and son; Michael, dark and sparky, looks not unlike his father at the same age, and seems to share his clarity of thought, to the point that he studied philosophy for two years. Otherwise, he is his own man and his own musician – and has no plans to take up conducting. And while Daniel is partial to cigars, Michael prefers a pipe. “I like the taste of cigars,” he declares. “I just like the taste of pipes more.”
Jessica Duchen writes regularly for The Independent and for her popular classical music jessicamusic.blogspot