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Friday, October 14, 2011

The Italian Job

Daniel Barenboim takes over at La Scala.
Daniel Barenboim leads a rehearsal in 2005. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.
Conductor/pianist Daniel Barenboim has been appointed as the new Music Director of La Scala. He is the first conductor to hold that post since Riccardo Muti left in 2005. The conductor signed a 5-year contract which starts Dec. 1. He has been a frequent guest conductor at the house in recent years.

By taking this position, Mr. Barenboim has effectively swapped jobs with Mr. Muti, who now serves as music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Mr. Barenboim led the CSO for 17 years, stepping down at the end of his contract in 2006.

The La Scala position is one of the most important jobs in Italian musical culture and the operatic world. As the house is often subject to strikes and other unpredictable labor actions, the music director must balance singers, unions, press, and a volatile and vocal public.

Mr. Barenboim will also retain his current the Music Director of the Berlin Staatsoper. An acclaimed conductor of operas and symphonies, he remains in international demand as a solo pianist and a performer of concertos. His newest recording is the two Liszt piano concertos, recorded with the Staatskapelle Berlin. Pierre Boulez conducts.

Born in Argentina in 1942, Mr. Barenboim was raised in Israel. He received early praise from Wilhelm Furtwängler and formal training from Nadia Boulanger. Mr. Barenboim rose to fame in the early 1970s as a pianist, conductor and accompanist to his first wife, the late cellist Jacqueline du Pré. She retired from music in 1973, and died in 1987.  

He has served as music director at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, conducted the Ring at Bayreuth and issued a massive recording catalogue over a 44-year career. Among his prominent recordings: two cycles of Beethoven piano sonatas, the major  symphonies of Beethoven and Brahms, and two cycles of Bruckner symphonies recorded in Chicago and Berlin. 

A number of those recordings are being reissued this month, including a 34-disc box set (on Warner Brothers Classics) of his complete Wagner operas, recorded in Bayreuth and Berlin. (This has been released in Europe on Oct. 10--an American release date remains TBA.) Also newly available, Mr. Barenboim's first recording of the complete Bruckner symphonies, made with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in the 1970s.
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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.