From today Friday 29 January to Tuesday 2 February, over four sold-out concerts, one of the world’s most influential cultural figures Daniel Barenboim returns to the Royal Festival Hall for the first time since his phenomenally-received Beethoven piano sonata cycle in 2008. Joined by Berlin Staatskapelle as part of Southbank Centre’s Shell Classic International series, Barenboim directs all five Beethoven piano concertos from the keyboard, juxtaposing them with Arnold Schoenberg’s orchestral music.
During the final concert on 2 February, Barenboim will additionally give an illustrated talk on Schoenberg’s Variations for Orchestra before conducting a complete performance. On the pairing of these two Austro-Germanic masters, he said, ‘What's interesting about Beethoven and Schoenberg is that both composers managed to sum up everything that was written before them and at the same time point the way to the future.’ All four concerts, which sold out more than six months ago, will be relayed live on big screens for all for free on The Clore Ballroom in the Royal Festival Hall and recorded by BBC Radio 3 for broadcast on 3, 4, 8 and 9 February. The 31 January concert will additionally be filmed by BBC 4 for broadcast later in 2010.
In 2008, Barenboim gave a series of eight Royal Festival Hall recitals surveying the complete Beethoven Piano Sonatas. The cycle was one of the most popular and critically-acclaimed events at Southbank Centre in recent years, attended by capacity audiences with over 22,000 tickets sold and more than 600 people witnessing the entire cycle.
Barenboim has been Principal Conductor of the Berlin Staatskapelle since 1992 and was made their Principal Conductor for Life in 2000. The orchestra of the Berlin State Opera, Berlin Staatskapelle traces its roots to 1570, when Joachim II Hector, Elector of Brandenburg established an orchestra at his court. It became affiliated with the Royal Court Opera in 1742 and gave a number of world and German premieres of works by Richard Wagner, Felix Mendelssohn among others. In November 2009, Barenboim and the Orchestra joined Bon Jovi, Mikhail Gorbachev, Lech Walesa and Hillary Clinton to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall at the Brandenburg Gate.
Described by the Observer as ‘not merely one of the greatest all-round musicians alive – he is one of the few great men of our time’, Barenboim is increasingly involved in how the arts can engage with politics and help contribute to improvements in society. He is widely known for his efforts in bridging the Israeli and Palestinian communities in the Middle East. In 1999, Barenboim, together with the Palestinian literary scholar Edward Said, set up the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra which brings together young musicians from Israel and the Arab countries every summer. The orchestra seeks to enable dialogues between the various cultures of the Middle East and to promote this through the experience of making music together. Musicians of the Berlin Staatskapelle have participated as teachers in this project since its foundation.
In 2006, Barenboim delivered the BBC Reith Lectures, and gave a six-part lecture series at Harvard University as Charles Eliot Norton Professor. In 2007 he received the honorary doctorate of the University of Oxford and was given ‘la Cravate de Commandeur dans l'Ordre national de la Légion d'Honneur’ by former French President Jacques Chirac. UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, named Daniel Barenboim UN messenger of peace in September 2007.
Barenboim and Berlin Staatskapelle’s 2009 Shell Classic International concerts are emblematic of Southbank Centre’s increasing offer of artist-led, immersive series. Other in-depth projects in the 2009/10 season are two further Beethoven Cycles (the Tákacs Quartet performing the string quartets over six concerts and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment playing the nine symphonies), Varese 360º (the complete works over one weekend in April), the Bernstein Project led by Marin Alsop, and Nigel Kennedy’s Polish Music Weekend on 29–31 May.
This is the third year that Shell has supported the Shell Classic International season as part of its major sponsorship of Southbank Centre’s Transformation project, which included the reopening of the refurbished Royal Festival Hall in June 2007. As neighbours on the South Bank for over 40 years, Shell shares with Southbank Centre a strong commitment to the regeneration of the area.