Berlin opera conductor Daniel Barenboim dismisses bullying claims | News | DW | 23.02.2019
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Berlin opera conductor Daniel Barenboim dismisses bullying claims

Berlin's state opera says it will stand by the world-renowned conductor despite criticism of his "temperamental" style. Several musicians have accused the 76-year-old of making them afraid to go to work.

The Staatsoper Berlin (Berlin state opera) and its resident orchestra, the Staatskapelle Berlin (Berlin state orchestra), have insisted that "confidence remains untouched" in their chief conductor Daniel Barenboim despite criticism of his aggressive leadership style.

A statement from the opera board late on Friday said the two sides were looking forward to "more years of successful cooperation," despite a deepening scandal.

Several musicians had complained anonymously about Barenboim's bullying approach to communication, which included personal insults and other belligerent behavior towards them, according to German media.

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Climate of fear

Timpanist Willis Hilgers, who played with Barenboim for 16 years but who has since moved to the Munich State Opera, later went public with his complaint, telling public broadcaster Bayerischer Rundfunk that Barenboim's treatment of him had given him high blood pressure and severe depression.

Despite the Israel-Argentinian conductor being "one of the greatest musicians on this planet," Hilgers revealed: "Over the last two years, I had to take anti-depressants to be able to play again."

Daniel Barenboim (picture-alliance/Geisler-Fotopress/T. Bartilla)

Barenboim has won seven Grammy awards, along with top orders of merit from Germany, France and Britain

The broadcaster also interviewed Martin Reinhardt, another musician who played under Barenboim in Berlin. He complained about "always feeling afraid about going to work." Describing the director's working style, he said: "Sometimes he was very temperamental, [had] sudden mood changes, or he would sometimes blast someone with little reason."

Barenboim has hit back at the criticism, questioning in an interview with the German news agency DPA why the allegations took so long to surface.

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Conductor claims campaign against him

The conductor said he and Hilgers had held discussions about the percussionist's "rhythmic weaknesses," adding that it was his job to point out shortcomings.

But he suggested another reason for the current round of comments: "In my view, it's linked to a campaign to prevent me from staying on in Berlin."

Barenboim is currently in negotiations to extend his contract as general musical director of the Staatsoper.

Berlin Staatsoper director Matthias Schulz promised to hold open discussions with musicians and staff to hear their concerns.

"I have stressed that if there are any serious problems, these can and must be discussed and settled," Schulz said.

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An independent, out-of-house point of contact for complainants is also to be set up, Schulz said.

Despite the accusations, the director added that he had seen "an awful lot of solidarity for Barenboim" within the opera house.

Barenboim was named general musical director at the Staatsoper 28 years ago and in 2000 became the chief conductor for life.

He has also been lauded for his work at the helm of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and for setting up the West-Eastern Divan orchestra as a workshop for Israeli, Palestinian and other Arab musicians.

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