The Frost Interview

Daniel Barenboim: ‘Spaces of dialogue’

A fascinating insight into one of classical music’s best known and most controversial characters.

Sir David Frost travels to New York to meet the legendary Israeli conductor and pianist, Daniel Barenboim.

A giant in the world of classical music, Barenboim is also a man with very strong political views, and is believed to be the only man alive with both an Israeli and a Palestinian passport, reflecting his deep interest in the Middle East. 

Born in Buenos Aires in 1942, he tells Sir David how his Russian-Jewish grandparents originally came to Argentina, a tale he says is ‘a story for Hollywood’.

He also talks about his early life as a young pianist, as the child of two musicians, and describes how Argentina was an important global musical centre in the aftermath of World War II.

He tells Sir David about his first international performance in Salzburg aged just nine and how the conductor Igor Markevitch inspired his decision to study conducting. He says Markevitch thought “he was born to be a conductor” because of his strong rhythmic ability.

Questioned by Sir David about his marriage to the British cellist Jacqueline Du Pre, Barenboim describes her as “probably the most musically talented person” he ever knew.

He gives Sir David an emotional account of their meeting in 1966 and the news, just 18 months later, that she had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS).

Music has the capacity to create a greater reality.

by Daniel Barenboim

In a rare and intimate discussion of their relationship during her 18-year fight with MS, he also talks about his affair with Elena Bashkirova, whom he married after Jacqueline’s death.

We also gain an insight into Barenboim’s relationship with his two sons from his marriage to Elena, and how both have pursued musical careers; one as a classical violinist and another as a hip-hop musician.

In particular, the conductor tells Sir David about an argument with the latter about music and how it helped their relationship.

He talks of his move to Israel in 1952 and how the 1970 events of Black September left him convinced of the necessity for reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians.

He stresses to Sir David that “the basic point is the Palestinians must have equal rights”. He talks about his friendship with the late Palestinian-American literary professor, Edward Said, with whom he founded the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, an ensemble made up of young Arab and Israeli musicians.

Barenboim says that “the only hope for the future is creating spaces of dialogue”. During the interview, he invites Sir David to the world famous Carnegie Hall in New York to see the WEDO perform.

The programme also features exclusive behind-the-scenes rehearsals as Barenboim puts his musicians through their paces. Those same musicians also reflect on the importance of the WEDO and what it has been able to achieve.

We discover how he has courted controversy in Israel for his views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and faced hatred and insults for his decision to conduct music by Richard Wagner in Jerusalem at the National Festival of Israel.

Referring to Hitler’s love of the composer, Barenboim questions how “a monster … who murdered 6 million Jews … had the capacity to go to a performance of Lohengrin opera by Wagner and be moved to tears?” He concludes that “there was no connection between the two” and that “music has the capacity to create a greater reality”.

Daniel Barenboim bares his life and his soul to Sir David: he is emotional and outspoken. His love of music shines through the whole interview, as do his political beliefs. Along with his public performances, the programme offers viewers the opportunity to see behind-the-scenes footage.

The result is a fascinating insight into one of classical music’s best known and most controversial characters.


The Frost Interview can be seen each week at the following times GMT: Friday: 2000; Saturday: 1200; Sunday: 0100; Monday: 0600.

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