A Conversation With Daniel Barenboim 

The CSO maestro answers his critics, evaluates his players, and expounds his philosphy of music making.

Daniel Barenboim is, by any standard, a prodigy. Born in Argentina in 1942, the grandson of Russian Jewish immigrants, he gave his first official piano recital in Buenos Aires at the age of seven. He moved with his family to Israel at the age of nine, and soon launched a career as a pianist and conductor that has led to international acclaim and several prestigious music directorships, including that of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. He's highly intelligent and intensely energetic, and he's a stunningly fine musician. He speaks more than a half dozen languages fluently, though he says self-deprecatingly, "My Russian is only half good."

He was a popular guest with the CSO beginning in 1970, but his time in the director's post, which he took over in 1991, has been marked by controversy from the start. As the semiretirement of Sir Georg Solti--regarded locally as a virtual saint for crafting the sound and boosting the prestige of the CSO--loomed, Italian conductor Claudio Abbado, also a regular guest conductor here for many years, was the clear choice of Chicago critics and concertgoers.

But neither concertgoers nor critics get a say in these matters. Even before the choice was announced the scuttlebutt in Chicago's small musical world was that Orchestral Association executive director Henry Fogel, a man who likes to keep a firm grip on the administrative reins, wanted a music director who would be in his debt and controllable, while Solti, allegedly displaying a petty streak, wanted a successor who wouldn't dim his own luster. Abbado, said the cognoscenti, was far too independent for Fogel and much too strong for Solti.

Barenboim has a reputation among musicians for arrogance and aloofness, and reviews of his work frequently point to inconsistencies in interpretation and tempo. Abbado was also reportedly the first choice of the members of the orchestra, though Fogel says a survey was taken of the players in which Barenboim emerged as the leader. Barenboim got the nod.

He arrived amid much fanfare and many promises from the Orchestral Association of greater community involvement and cooperation between the city's major cultural institutions. But critics complain that not much has come of those pledges, saying, for example, that Barenboim has made only a few visits to Chicago public schools and pointing to his bowing out of a much-publicized production of Alban Berg's Wozzeck at Lyric Opera last fall. Such criticism can seem unfair. Solti, although not above suggesting the erection of a statue of himself, was hardly involved in the city's day-to-day musical life. Whatever the complaints, Barenboim has given of himself much more generously.

He has also worked hard to erase his old image of lofty inaccessibility among the players. Even his detractors say they now feel free to go to him with their objections and suggestions and that they get a fair hearing. I spoke to more than a dozen members of the CSO about their perceptions of Barenboim. A couple offered flattering quotes, and another couple were eager to bash him anonymously. The majority seemed lukewarm, though they all said they wished him well and hoped he would continue to grow in the position. Even a couple of individuals I had been led to believe would be hostile were reluctant to say anything, as one remarked, "that could be seen as unwillingness to give the guy a chance."

What I found in several months of intense Barenboim watching was a man capable of playing Chopin like a dream--the ideal Romantic pianist--then a moment later performing like a promising high school student. He's a polished trouper who knows how to program a recital and charm a crowd, but it seems to be the learned behavior of an ardent musician who made himself into a showman to accomplish his vision and achieve his goals. Although he's sometimes accused of not thinking a piece of music through, many of his missteps strike me as sins of overintellectualizing. He's famous, for example, as a champion of new music, difficult stuff not happily anticipated by most subscribers--the sort of thing more apt to appeal to the intellectual's head than the music lover's heart--and his inconsistencies seem to come from a misplaced desire to appear spontaneous.

He may also be a little too anxious to find ways to set himself apart from his famed predecessor. He has changed the seating positions of several sections--switching the positions of the violas and cellos (which was greatly resented by the cellists), for example, and putting the back rows on risers, which makes it easier for the brasses to blot out the lighter instruments and ignores the way instruments such as the timpani use the stage floor to carry their sound. Some of the acoustical problems this arrangement presents may be due to Orchestra Hall's shallow stage, but the effect is to muddy the sound. At the very least benefits are debatable, but Barenboim, using his prerogative as music director, has declared that no conductor except Solti can change the seating for any concert.

Toward the end of the 1993-'94 concert season, while writing a story for the New York Times, I interviewed Barenboim in his subterranean den at Orchestra Hall, a small, neat dressing room/office near the stage-right stairs. He was generous with his time and made excellent espresso. (He also smoked a cigar, but he asked if I'd mind.) He is short and stocky, intense and extremely charming. And he evinces interest in and knowledge of a wide range of musical topics.

Bryan Miller: Let's start with some basics. What are the differences between being a guest conductor and the music director of the CSO?

Daniel Barenboim: When you work as the music director of an orchestra you work in an entirely different way than you work as a guest. When you come as a guest you have your rehearsals for a specific program. You rehearse your program as best as you can and as best as the orchestra can play, and you play the concert. And then you go on.

I think a music director really works in such a way that the things that are important to him musically are clearly evident to the orchestra as being important, and if they were not [already important], they become important to the orchestra as well. And vice versa. I think the musical relationship between the conductor and the orchestra is very much one of give-and-take. When you work as a music director you don't really prepare one program after another, but you work on the things that are for you essential, musically speaking. In the process of doing that the programs get put together.

BM: So instead of a one-shot you're looking at the long term.

DB: Yes, that's right. You work closely together from one week to the next, from one style to the other and from one piece to another.

It's very difficult to say, "Oh, yes, I have achieved this." As a guest conductor it's very easy to say, "Yes, I conducted the Vienna Philharmonic once in such and such a piece, and I achieved something that I was not able to achieve before then." But when you work regularly I think it's very difficult to speak of achievement.

BM: Can you speak of your goals and your vision for the CSO? It's famous for the "Solti sound"--do you want to change that?

DB: Even when I was much younger and less experienced I was very quickly aware of the fact that the Chicago Symphony had the capacity to play with different kinds of sounds, with different conductors in the same pieces, and different sounds for different composers. They did not have a sound that was imposed by a conductor, but they had this great flexibility. And I think this we should keep. I think the orchestra today does sound different when it does music with me, or when it does music with Pierre Boulez, who conducts here for a month every year, or when Solti comes back.

So it's not a question of changing the sound. It's again a question of what is essential for me. One of the most essential qualities required in any kind of orchestral music making is a continuity of sound. If the sound is not held, if you let it die, there is no possibility of beauty of sound, there is no possibility of articulation. So one of the things that I strive for continuously is the continuity of sound in the orchestra--a continuity that obviously has to consciously be broken when you want it, for a specific, expressive purpose, but not just because it just dies.

This is, in a way, what creates the tension of music: the sound has basically a tendency to drop into silence. You are a singer, so you know. You use so much energy to produce a tone; unless after you produce a tone you nourish it and hold on, it dies, it dies into silence. Therefore if you let it die you produce tension. The relation is not only between the sounds one after another, but the tension starts in a transition from silence to the first note. This is for me one of the really basic principles of music making. I think that it is something which one has to constantly remind oneself and those working in music of. Otherwise they just produce the sound and think it will stay by itself.

BM: You mentioned Toscanini getting different sounds from different orchestras. How does the CSO compare to and differ from other orchestras you work with?

DB: First, let's talk about the attitude, if I may. There's a tremendous seriousness in the attitude of these [CSO] musicians, always was--not just discipline, but very, very serious and a great open-mindedness. In other words, it's not just that "We play like this because we always played like this." There's always the curiosity to review and to think anew. There's almost a sportlike attitude, in the best sense of the words: "Oh, you want that? Yes, of course we can do it!"

It is an orchestra that has a musical consciousness far above the level of many other also great orchestras--the question of articulation, of clarity, of rhythm, of phrasing is something that is taken for granted here. This is an orchestra that contains a great musical consciousness, especially for anything that has to do with rhythmic clarity and clarity of articulation. The reason that the orchestra has such a vitality and such sheer power comes from that, because if you don't have the clarity you cannot, obviously, have the power.

BM: Do they listen to one another more than some orchestras?

DB: It's not a question only of their listening--that too--but they are more preoccupied with neatness than most orchestras. Not only neatness of intonation and things any professional orchestra does, but the neatness of expression.

BM: You had the violas and the cellos trade places. Why?

DB: The old, traditional seating in Mozart and Beethoven's time had the first and second violins on either side of the conductor--that's how the music was written, so the sound of the violins comes from both sides. Then as the orchestra grew bigger they were replaced because of a difference in the writing. This is relatively recent, around the time of Debussy.

For most music, including Bruckner, it's actually better to have the violins separated, but a stage like ours--too shallow, too wide--makes incredibly difficult ensemble problems. When we have a better stage, I may try to separate the violins, as [conductor Rafael] Kubelik did.

The violas and cellos don't make their best sound in [the traditional] seating. Putting the cellos in the center has an advantage because it gives you a bass, a low register in the center. It's like a heartbeat in the body of the orchestra. But we must have balance between the vertical and the horizontal. The violas have a different texture. They are like altos in the choir; they tend to get lost. I think we get a greater degree of clarity with this [arrangement].

BM: What objections have there been to the new arrangement?

DB: Most of the dissenters have been in the cellos. Cellos take more space than violas, and now they have less space than they are used to. There is a certain sense of discomfort for the cellos. This new arrangement requires some adjustment in their listening to each other.

I moved the horns and the trumpets too, you know. The horns are not a pure brass instrument; they are the catalyst, the instrument that blends between the woodwinds and brass. Therefore the horns have to sit to the conductor's right and blow into the woodwinds. This makes a much more homogeneous sound.

BM: The orchestra was so identified with Solti. Has he been a tough act to follow?

DB: I don't think so. I don't feel it that way. But this may have to do with the fact that I have been coming here for so long that I feel very much at one with them. I think that we are all very fortunate that the orchestra had such a good and healthy relationship with Solti for such a long time. An orchestra that does not have basically healthy relations with its conductor over a certain amount of time and changes hands often cannot [help] but bring into its music making some of this lack of tranquillity and sense of well-being. And there is a wonderful sense of musical well-being here. I think this is due to the fact that we've had such a good and healthy relationship with Solti for such a long time.

I have seen that in several cases--for instance, in the Berlin Philharmonic with Karajan. I saw that in Philadelphia with Ormandy. And in the end these orchestras become what they are in part because of this long relationship that they had with a certain conductor--and the conductors become what they are because of it.

I think the question of conductor-dictators, as they have been described in the past, had to do very often with behavior--the behavior of Toscanini, the behavior of Fritz Reiner, etcetera. But musically speaking, there was always a give-and-take, for the simple reason that the musicians are actually producing the sound. Good conductors not only act--in other words, they not only give the impulse to the orchestra, but they react to the sound that is coming out of the orchestra. Certainly Fritz Reiner and Toscanini, to name only two supposed tyrants, were obviously great conductors. All you have to do is listen to recordings of Toscanini with the NBC Symphony Orchestra over the BBC [Orchestra], and you hear the difference. It means that, willingly or unwillingly, consciously or subconsciously, he accepted the fact there was a give-and-take with the orchestra.

I think that Furtwangler or Karajan would have ended as different conductors if they had not had this long tenure with the Berlin Philharmonic--or Ormandy with the Philadelphia.

BM: So you're saying that the players and the conductor mold each other.

DB: Very much so. You know that, in the end, it's the musicians who make the actual sound. This is not a sociological or a political statement. It is a purely musical statement: They are making the sound. Therefore the conductor has to, in the first place, give them the impulse of how he wants to hear it, but he also has to react to what he gets back from them. By sheer definition that is give-and-take.

BM: I understand that in the first couple of seasons you couldn't replace players, and now you'll be able to. One of the criticisms I've heard is that some of the string players practically have to be propped up to play, that there are intonation problems, and so forth, especially in the upper strings. I have noted regular problems with poor pitch and ragged cutoffs in the violins. Are you planning to make any personnel changes?

DB: I didn't come here to change the players. I didn't come here to fire players. I think that we have to--all of us, the musicians and I, and the musicians in the other orchestras in America and their conductors--come to terms with the fact that the pensions of musicians have to be of amounts that enable the musician to retire in a dignified and humane way. The law that exists in America now--that you cannot retire people, there is no mandatory retirement age--is not conducive to high quality. It doesn't help us.

Of course there are certain exceptions. We have some incredible exceptions in this orchestra, of people of an advanced age who have managed to retain that high quality. But those are the exceptions.

This is a problem that affects not only me and not only our orchestra, but all orchestras in America. We have to find a way through that. This is a relatively recent law, as you know, and--I didn't come here, as I said, to fire people. Nor did I come here to see a decline in the orchestra. That is not my purpose. Therefore we have to find ways, and I believe in finding ways together. I don't believe this is something that can be imposed, either by the board of trustees or by the musicians. No, it is something that has to be worked out together.

BM: You have a very tough players' committee here.

DB: I have personally never had an angry word with them, nor a disagreement--oh, minor details, like one always does. And I've found the players' committee committed to maintaining the highest standards of the Chicago Symphony.

That's why I say the problem affects everybody. I think every musician will tell you that this is a problem. There are players, I think, that want to retire, and they don't feel they can do that in a humane and dignified way, because the pension does not really allow them to continue living in the standard they're used to.

In Europe it is much simpler. At the age of 65 you retire, and that's it. You might of course deprive yourself of the services of great musicians for a few years if they could go beyond that, but the mandatory retirement age does several things. It takes away the painful decision to be taken by whoever or whatever it is--the players themselves, the conductor, or the management--to say, "You're old enough, now go. You, on the other hand, are a little older, but you have kept yourself in better shape. You might stay."

This is very bad for an orchestra, for a collective spirit--and it does not allow the young musicians that keep coming out to get jobs. The argument of discrimination against the old people also works in the other way, because the young people that come out of the schools and go to one orchestra after another, they want to end up in a great orchestra. And there is simply not enough room for them.

BM: What is the procedure here--do you reaudition someone when you think the sound is not right? How do you go about getting someone to retire who needs to retire for reasons of quality?

DB: I hope, I hope that a musician that has served an orchestra of this level for a long time has enough musical consciousness himself or herself to know that the time has come for them to go. It has to be like this, actually. You cannot really expect me, or anybody else in my position, to go to somebody who has been playing in this orchestra for 40 years, giving the best of themselves--their whole soul and body--and say, "Now you have to go because you are not good enough anymore." It should never arrive at that.

BM: But if it does?

DB: I haven't gotten to that yet. In fact, one of our musicians who--I should say, politely, he's older than I--came into this very room and said to me, "I want you to promise me something, that if you feel that my playing is deteriorating that you will really tell me. I don't want to just hang on to this, and I'm not 100 percent sure that I will have the objectivity to do it myself. Will you promise me that?" And that's to me the greatest sign of confidence that I can get from a musician.

BM: There have been complaints from various sources about a certain inconsistency in your work, that things have been interpreted differently from one night to the next.

DB: That is the greatest compliment they can give me. Music does not exist like this kind of people think. The Grosse Fuge of Beethoven doesn't exist at this moment. The Grosse Fuge of Beethoven existed as long as it was in Beethoven's brain, and it comes into being every time it is performed somewhere--tonight it happens to be us--but wherever it is performed. It comes to life when it is performed. It comes to life. And you don't live two minutes in your life the same way either.

You know, we live in an age of preservation. Everything has to be deep-frozen, whether it is to be eaten or to be put in a CD to be listened to. That's not what music is about. When they talk about my doing things differently what do people mostly talk about? The speed, the tempo--because it is the only thing that they can really judge, whether they admit it or not.

I think, for instance, when we go on tour and we play in different halls, it is to be hoped that we will be different. Because when you play in a resonant hall the acoustics demand more time for the notes to speak. When you play in a very dry hall the acoustics demand a slightly faster [tempo]. Therefore tempo, speed, is not an independent factor. It is the frame, it is the result of everything that comes out of the tension that is in the music. For instance, it is a harmonic tension, a melodic tension, or counterpoint--or whatever it is. And according to the amount of tension that you feel in the music and want to bring out, this is what determines the tempo. There is no such thing as perfect tempo. There's a tempo that allows you to make a unity of a thousand elements. This is what music making's about. Otherwise it's just a collection of sounds.

The expression "to make music"--what does that mean? I see that as being the opposite of just playing sounds. The minute you really want to make music means that you find an organic wholeness to everything that you do--the balance, the dynamics, the articulation, the volume, the intensity, and all this. You have to find a tempo that allows you to do all that.

BM: John von Rhein of the Tribune wrote a very critical, very controversial story about your leadership of the CSO just before the [1993-'94] season opener. Did you know it was coming?

DB: I didn't know it was coming, because he never spoke to me. [He laughs.] To be fair, he was openly against my coming here. He said so verbally, orally, and he wrote about it. Therefore what do you expect? Now in order to earn his living he has to come every Thursday and write about something that he in advance knew that he wouldn't like. It sounds as if I'm being ironic. I'm not. I understand his situation.

I must say also, to his credit, that when he likes a concert--which happens, actually, quite often--he's not ashamed to write a good review.

BM: How important are critics?

DB: I think that criticisms are important when you start your career and you need to get engagements, and that is how people will get to know about you. But after you are known you have to try and do the best that you can. There will always be periods when critics are positive, and there will be periods when critics are less positive.

I must say, I think on our level--the Chicago Symphony and my level--what difference does it make? Suppose we really get bad reviews. The people, if they're happy, they will come.

I have played and conducted too many concerts which I have considered not good enough and received rave reviews--and haven't felt any better for it. Therefore I don't feel I have the right to get annoyed when I feel that we played a good concert and we get a bad review.

I think that the best we can do, the orchestra and I, is to develop self-criticism as far as we can, as best as we can. And this is one of the qualities of this orchestra: it is incredibly self-critical--and it is much sharper in its criticisms of itself than any critic can be. So we don't really rely on [criticism].

BM: Is there any difference in how you approach your work as a conductor and your work as a pianist?

DB: None. None. It is all the same. The only difference is the muscular training of the arms and hands. The musical preparation and the psychological preparation are identical.

BM: One of your longtime observers thought you might be approaching burnout as a conductor/performer. Is there anything to that?

DB: How do you mean?

BM: Just getting tired of all of this.

DB: I don't think so. I still retain complete and total fascination for the actual phenomenon of sound and what it is about sound that can be so expressive. And that becomes, on the one hand, a way of enriching one's own life, and of communicating to other people, on the other hand. This never ceases to amaze me. Even in moments when I'm tired and don't feel like it--like it happens to all of us--the minute I come into contact with the music I'm still fascinated by it.

I think what is important to do is to, as one gets older, to be able to separate the works that you want to accompany you through your life and the works that you do because of a certain interest that you have at a given moment. Then when you lose the interest--if you lose interest in those works at a given moment--to leave them aside and not just keep repeating them because you have learned them.

There are pieces--for example, the Mozart-da Ponte operas or the Bruckner symphonies or the Brahms symphonies or actually more contemporary works, the Notations of Pierre Boulez--these are pieces I know will accompany me as long as I can conduct. This is what I want, in any case. That's who I want to live with.

And there are other works that I have done and greatly enjoyed. Greatly enjoyed and then left aside. Taken up again, left aside. It has nothing to do with the greatness of the piece. This is a kind of communication that I feel or do not feel for certain works. I think that is very important--not to do repertory simply because you are asked to do that or because it is expected of you. I choose very clearly, either because it is a work that I know I want to keep doing, or there are new works that I have a certain curiosity to do.

For instance, next week we play the world premiere of a new work, a work that I commissioned from Elliott Carter. I will see how I feel when I do that. I'm very curious, and I'll put all my energy into doing it. And if it is a work that will retain the interest, it is a work that I will keep playing. Or it might be a work that I will leave aside for a while and then take up again. I think the staleness comes from repeating things where one doesn't really feel the inner need for them.

BM: There's a lot of pressure on all musical organizations to constantly do contemporary work--

DB: I think the pressure is on those organizations that do contemporary works only in order to pay lip service to them. And I don't believe we do that. I believe very much that it is, for me, a duty--not only a duty, but it's something that I'm curious about. I'm curious about a new piece of Carter. I'm curious about a new piece of Boulez. I'm very curious by nature. And I think that it is in the end important for our performances of the roots of the past to be involved in the works of the present.

For instance, to come back to Notations of Pierre Boulez, it's a work that I really love dearly. I conducted the world premiere of it, I've done it since then at regular intervals, and it keeps fascinating me. There is in that piece, how should I put it--it is a study in orchestral colors, in orchestral textures. You actually feel Boulez weighs the sound of the instruments, like a good butcher. He himself says--it's not my invention--that he knows to make this piece of meat, and it's so many grams of veal, and so many grams of beef, and so many grams of pork. You feel a little bit the weighing--of the oboe and the trumpet and the percussion, etcetera. And this weighing sharpens your sensitivity for the colors, for the possibility of volume and intensity of this instrument. And then when you go back to La mer of Debussy or even when you go back to Mozart, the work that I have done on Notations is something which has given me food for thought for works of the past. And I would not have had those thoughts had I not done that.

I try to make as balanced a season as I can and to put a certain number of contemporary pieces and to put second performances [of contemporary pieces]. It's not such a big deal nowadays to get a first performance--everybody's interested. It's the second time around.

BM: When does it stop being a novelty? One gets the impression that the novelty value is the primary reason some new works are presented.

DB: But I think there is also a problem of familiarity. Familiarity does not only breed contempt! I think this is one of my duties as music director: to make certain aesthetic choices--which will meet with a certain amount of approval and a certain amount of disapproval. That's the rule of the game. But to choose what are the new pieces that really deserve further hearing and those that do not. To give you a concrete example, the Third Symphony of Lutoslawski was a commission of the Chicago Symphony. Solti conducted the world premiere; I conducted the French and German. I greatly believe in this piece. I think it is one of the great symphonies of the second half of the century. So when I came here I played it again, and that's how we got the second performance. I think this is very important, and I think very often works that people don't know--not only contemporary works. We played two weeks ago a work of Alban Berg here. Believe it or not, it was the first time it came on a subscription program of the Chicago Symphony. And so many people that I met said, "What an interesting piece. We've never heard it--we wish we could hear it again." A work of this importance has to come again. Nobody can claim to hear it once and really understand what it is about. And therefore it is my duty as music director here to choose the works that are not familiar that I consider deserve to be familiar and repeat them at certain intervals.

And of course I will be criticized for that--I am criticized for repeating myself. And if I don't repeat them I will be criticized for not repeating them! So you understand, this is not a political position that I am in.

BM: But in a way it is.

DB: But it's not a political position in the sense that I do not make aesthetic decisions by thinking, "What degree of approval will I get?" I make the decisions, rightly or wrongly--and I have made wrong decisions in my life, like everybody else--but I think I've been right, because I have arrived at a moment where I think, "Yes, it must be like this. Now is the time to do this." And I do it.

There will always be people who will be in favor and people who will be against it. And I think one of the great difficulties of young conductors when they start is that they don't often come to terms with the fact that the day you decide to become a conductor you cannot be a political person. You cannot expect to be loved by a hundred people when you try to do something. Some will like it more, others will like it less. And in the end the great conductors do what they feel is right.

I think that one of the great privileges that I feel I have after a long life--I've been on stage for 44 years this year. I played my first concert in 1950. One of the privileges I've had is that I can do things according to what I think is right. I obviously make mistakes. But I do what I think is right, and I do not have to worry about the polls, as it were.

BM: One criticism one hears a great deal--not just of you, but of anyone in your category of musical star, whether it's James Levine or Placido Domingo--is that you all spread yourselves too thin, popping around by jet from venue to venue. Is this a valid complaint?

DB: In my case, no, because I don't jet around. The question of spreading oneself too thin--I think one must look at it from two different angles. One is the artistic angle, and the other is the actual time that you spend doing it. I don't think that--if you do it intelligently--you can spread yourself too thin artistically. Take the case of Domingo, who has sung for so many years Verdi and Puccini, etcetera. Now he is singing Wagner. That's not spreading himself too thin. That will only give him further food for thought and for imagination when he goes back to the Italian repertoire. By the same token, because he has all the experience that he has with the Otellos of the world, he can bring a sense of real bel canto, in the best sense of the word, to the Wagnerian parts, which are so often shouted.

BM: No, I think his Wagner is very exciting, a wonderful development. In his case, the "spreading too thin" charge is more that he's always on the road, singing a tremendous amount--

DB: I think you have to separate that too. But he has the energy for that! He really thrives on that. I don't travel like this anymore. I don't like crossing the Atlantic. I don't think I can be considered a candidate for jetting around.

BM: What happened with the Wozzeck that you were supposed to do at Lyric Opera last fall?

DB: I was very sad that I couldn't do it, because when I came to Chicago I said--and I still say and believe--that the institutions are too, too . . .

BM: Too separate?

DB: Yeah, too separate, too independent. They have to be. But there's no collaboration, and I wanted to collaborate.

What happened was that the production that Patrice Chereau produced in Paris was technically impossible to bring to Lyric Opera the way it was. It would have been incredibly costly, and so many other things would have [had to be changed]. It is a production that I worked on from the beginning with Chereau, and that really was conceived like chamber music, in the best sense of the word. It was a coproduction with the Staatsoper in Berlin--where Wozzeck had its world premiere, in the 20s--in Paris, and the Lyric Opera. And it comes in Berlin now. I didn't think I could do justice to another production in between those two.

It's like a string quartet--you're used to playing in a string quartet in a certain way, and you can't take the second violin and make him go and play in another quartet. You have to finish that, and then you can do something else.

And therefore I was sad that I couldn't do it here, but I think everybody understood the reasons. We will find something else that I can do. There's no friction.

BM: Are you planning to do any more of the semistaged operas here, like your Mozart-da Ponte cycle, or was that not a success?

DB: It was a wonderful thing, and a great success. It was a very costly affair. From the day it was decided to do it until we actually played it--as you know, in this profession sometimes it takes years, you have to plan so far in advance--the world economic situation went down. It would have been impossible to imagine that it was going to cost that much and that it would be so difficult to finance it. I think if we do something like this again it will have to be funded in advance. The world economic situation today is unfortunately not what it was in '87, when the idea first came into being.

We do concert opera. We did the second half of Tristan last year, and we did the second half of Parsifal. And we will do Elektra.

BM: Are there any other upcoming projects you can talk about?

DB: There is only one I can think of that might be of interest, and that is that next year we are going again to Japan, for our normal tour--I've been over there twice, and Solti before me--and to participate in a 20th-century-music festival that we have put together with Pierre Boulez. It happens to be his 70th birthday next year, and we have put together a festival of the masterpieces of the 20th century. I will share the conducting with him, and I will also play a Bartok concerto with him and the London Symphony. I think that it will be a very major event, because there has been a great reticence on the part of the Japanese public to really accept 20th-century music. And I am a believer in the music of our time.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Kurt Mitchell.

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