We warmly congratulate Daniel Barenboim on his 80th birthday!
For an incredible 56 years, he has shared a close association with Lucerne Festival. From the Festival archives, we have gathered photos showing his many appearances as a pianist and conductor (often in both capacities), and we look back on Daniel Barenboim’s debut concert in the summer of 1966 with a post that was originally published to mark the 50th anniversary of his debut at Lucerne.
On 25 August 1966 – the very same year as two other artists who have left a deep impression in recent decades, Bernard Haitink and Claudio Abbado – Daniel Barenboim appeared for the first time before the Festival audience in Lucerne. He was only 23 years old at the time, and yet he confidently played a double role: in piano concertos by Mozart (Jenamy) and Beethoven (Piano Concerto No. 2), he not only appeared as the soloist with the English Chamber Orchestra but also conducted from the keyboard, and he also took to the podium to conduct Bartók's Divertimento for String Orchestra.
This memorable debut occurred thanks in no small part to a woman from Lucerne who had emigrated to England in 1954: Ursula Jones-Strebi, daughter of Walter Strebi, the long-time president of the Internationalen Musikfestwochen Luzern (as Lucerne Festival was known until 2001), who is herself currently a member of the Festival's Board of Trustees. In London, having gained experience with the legendary music producer Walter Legge and his Philharmonia Orchestra, she took over management of the Goldsborough Orchestra, a young chamber orchestra, which she soon gave a name that was internationally more appealing: English Chamber Orchestra. She had previously met Daniel Barenboim in passing through the pianist Edwin Fischer, "a frequent guest at my parents' house. He telephoned me over and over, asking to be allowed to perform with my orchestra and also to conduct my 'hard-boiled' musicians. Initially I hesitated, since he was young and inexperienced as a conductor." But when Ursula Jones-Strebi needed a conductor at short notice for two concerts in Cambridge and Reading, she gave Barenboim a chance ... and he immediately showed his persuasiveness as a conductor as well: "It was an immensely refreshing way of playing, making music in the spirit of chamber music – just as it probably was with the young Mozart himself," she recalls regarding the start of Barenboim's long-standing partnership with the English Chamber Orchestra, which has given posterity a recording of the complete Mozart piano concertos, among other achievements. "Simply put, Barenboim could do it."
The very next year, Ursula Jones-Strebi persuaded her father to invite Daniel Barenboim to Lucerne with the English Chamber Orchestra. Here, too, it was initially a matter of persuasion, but once again the performance disproved all skeptics. The critic of the Luzerner Tagblatt ascribed "exuberance and youthful fire" to the young musician: "The audience let itself be carried away and was inspired." Barenboim's Lucerne debut did not end with the final chord. There followed the obligatory reception at the Strebi home in Kastanienbaum, where he once again sat down at the piano to play Schubert's Trout Quintet together with musicians from the ranks of the chamber orchestra – a private late-night concert that was documented with pictures: "A guest book with only dedications and signatures was not enough for my mother," says Ursula Jones-Strebi. "So my uncle, Hans Erni, had to play the role of 'court painter', so to speak, and record the receptions in drawings."
Daniel Barenboim has given more than 70 concerts since his first appearance in Lucerne: as a pianist and/or conductor, performing a spectrum of programs ranging from Bach to Boulez and including world premieres by such figures as Chaya Czernowin and Saed Haddad; from solo recitals to concert performances of Wagner's Die Meistersinger, Die Walküre, and Tristan und Isolde and Beethoven's Fidelio. He has appeared with no fewer than eight different orchestras, including the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonic Orchestras and, of course, "his" ensembles: the Orchestre de Paris, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Filarmonica della Milan, the Staatskapelle Berlin, and the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra. Lucerne Festival thanks Daniel Barenboim for countless magnificent musical highlights.
Malte Lohmann | Editor Lucerne Festival (Translated by Thomas May)