Meet the Artist – Michael Barenboim, violinist

Who or what inspired you to take up the violin and pursue a career in music?

I grew up in a musical family, so I was surrounded by music from the beginning. I seemed to like the violin from the moment I started, and my maternal grandmother was a violinist, which helped!

Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

Outside of my family, like all violinists I listened to the greats, like Kreisler, Milstein etc. Musically speaking, Pierre Boulez had a decisive influence, especially on how to understand and then interpret the pieces I play.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

Every concert is a challenge! Playing the violin is extremely difficult, so it involves a lot of practice. And most of it is scales, exercises, etudes.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

I am very happy with the most recent one, which sketches a history of Italian violin music. The programme (Sciarrino, Tartini, Berio, Paganini) is fascinating!

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I have a soft spot for classical modernity, especially the second Viennese school. But as in the recording I mentioned above, my main interest lies in the juxtaposition of works from different times that have an inherent link. The compartmentalized nature of how we see music is not only absurd, but also counterproductive; we do not allow ourselves to understand the scope of what we hear and play because of this.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

Sometimes I choose, sometimes the promoter chooses, sometimes a combination of both. I like when the programmes I play have an inner logic, the pieces should communicate with each other.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

The Pierre Boulez Saal in Berlin is a unique venue because of its shape, and also the acoustics. I consider myself lucky to be able to play there regularly.

Who are your favourite musicians?

See earlier question…. Other than that, I am happy to have had the experience of working with great musicians, and hearing many more.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

If I had to pick one, it would be a concert Boulez did with the Berlin Philharmonic many years ago. The programme was beautiful, ingenious and quite amusing in its titles: Webern 6 pieces, Schönberg 5 pieces, Bartók 4 pieces, Berg 3 pieces.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Unlike in sport, we cannot quantify success, so we go by other criteria, the most important being whether we have understood the music we played and could convey this to the public. Other than that, it helps to play in tune obviously.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

The most important thing is to stress the importance of the music we play, and that we are in fact only there to convey an understanding of it. People might be attracted to star soloists and the like, but what they actually hear is Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms and so on.

Michael Barenboim makes his his UK recital debut on 18 June at Aldeburgh Festival, performing works by Bach, Bartók, Michael Hersch and a world premiere from his close friend Johannes Borowski.

Further information

Violinist Michael Barenboim is one of the most versatile and talented artists of his generation and has performed with some of the world’s most prestigious orchestras and conductors, including the Wiener Philharmoniker, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Mahler Chamber Orchestra under Pierre Boulez and Münchner Philharmoniker conducted by the late Lorin Maazel.


(photo by Marcus Höhn)