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Daniel Barenboim: See his hands in action

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Will Gompertz | 13:20 UK time, Wednesday, 3 February 2010

This footage is truly extraordinary. Here is Daniel Barenboim, the celebrated pianist and conductor, playing a very tricky trill with one hand, while conducting an orchestra with the other.

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I persuaded Barenboim and London's Southbank Centre to give me this short clip of him playing Beethoven Concerto No 3 with the Berlin Staatskapelle on Tuesday night at the Royal Festival Hall in London. The camera was mounted just to his left and gives us a chance to see something that most of the live audience couldn't - Barenboim playing the piano.

It was an extraordinary event to witness. Barenboim sat with his back to the majority of the audience; his piano was set at the centre-front of the stage where the conductor's podium would normally go, allowing him to simultaneously conduct. That takes some doing, especially when you have a global reputation to uphold in both disciplines.

Barenboim is not only considered to be one of the most gifted conductors of his generation, but also one of the world's greatest exponents of Beethoven's piano pieces, bringing remarkable knowledge and sensitivity to his playing.

And when he wasn't conducting or using both hands to play the piano, he was wiping his brow with a handkerchief. All of this masterfully executed without the music in front of him. He received a standing ovation at the interval, which, like the occasion itself, is a very rare event.

Thanks to those who have commented on my previous two posts. Particularly to mikeofthewest who provided this link in response to the video I posted of 40 finches playing Gibson Les Paul guitars.

I also remain very interested in seeing more high-quality examples of medium-specific internet art; there must be some out there?


  • Comment number 1.

    I was at royal festival hall and I was really impressed by maestro barenboim! It was such a spectacular concerts, I wish I could here it a thousand times! Now the staatskapelle berlin and daniel barenboim are leaving london in direction to paris, but I will join them online ( The last time they played in London was in 1998, this is a really long time and I hope to see them before the next ten years!

  • Comment number 2.

    Thank you for finding and posting this wonderful footage. I had the privilege of watching Mr. Barenboim both play and conduct at the Salzburg Music Festival two years ago and it was spell-binding, to say the least. It was riveting because of his talent, to be sure. But he was having fun, pure and simple. He was in the midst - literally - of the music, the orchestra and just loving doing what he was doing and it showed in the quality of the music. Thanks for letting me see what I couldn't see there - the fingers of a maestro.

  • Comment number 3.

    I applaud your work on the new arts blog initiative, but it really is beyond words that you profess no knowledge or consideration for digital art or net art.

    As founder and former director of onedotzero (a digital film and arts festival, based in London but showing work internationally) way back in 1996, I've championed and been an advocate of this field for years - and I had assumed cultural commentary had moved on somewhat in the past decade or so.

    Both San Francisco MoMA (010101) and the Whitney in New York (BitStreams) undertook groundbreaking digital art exhibitions in 2001. Festivals like Transmediale in Berlin and Ars Electronica in Linz continue to showcase astonishing examples of net art, generative art, and creative coding, annually. Closer to home the V&A seems to take an enlightened engagement with this fast emerging arts field.

    May I suggest We Feel Fine by Jonathan Harris and Sep Kamvar, and Cory Archangel's website as places to start to fill in gaps.

    I await your progress and engagement with this field with interest and expectation as some enlightened cultural commentary on it in mainstream media is sorely needed.

  • Comment number 4.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 5.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 6.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 7.

    Sorry, but much as I too admire Barenboim, there is nothing 'truly extraordinary' in this clip. Playing a trill is a standard piano technique and is normally done with one hand. Being able to conduct with the other hand is also a pretty standard technique (the baton-wielding conductor did not really appear until the 19th Century). What is more extraordinary is how a BBC Arts Editor can be so amazed by something that can be seen in concert halls pretty much any week of the year. Added to the shocking ignorance of digital art on display in this blog, it seems as though those who suggest this is a spoof may be right!

  • Comment number 8.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 9.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 10.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 11.

    I think this post is silly. Will Gomp/z, you don't know enough about this form of art.

    1. Barenboim does nothing special in the context, and you are doing nothing to reveal art by showing this clip. You simply treat art as a format of 'showmanship', or worse 'bizarre spectacle'. Have you actually ever performed an instrument, or conducted and orchestra? Have you any idea what Barenboim or any other performer would prefer you to show: something like, maybe, ensemble, or finding a special interpretive moment, or overall fidelity to a score?

    2. Half of the audience in any piano concert - where the piano is normally side-on to audience - sees pianists' hands at work. If you knew much about this you'd know that piano students make up much more of the left hand side of the auditorium than the right-hand side, because they want to see the keyboard work.

    3. This kind of blog may be what's wrong with arts coverage in the UK. Dilettantism writ large, deferential to the cultural mystique, comparatively ignorant, commenting idly and fancifully - rather than demystifying this world. This kind of post just makes the arts all the more opaque.

    4. There are /so many/ people that could do this job better than you, not just for less money, but for NO money. Most arts bloggers, doing it for love, are surely better than this.

    5. Even within the BBC canon of blogs, there are a few that take a much more judicious approach - throwing out blog posts - full in the knowledge that they will be heavily scrutinised, and thus may need more consideration and knowledge at their base than this one (or - !! - the 'net arts' one).

  • Comment number 12.

    If you need to find out about digital art, Will, so that you can comment on it in an informed fashion, I'm sure the BBC would let you expense the purchase of the Thames and Hudson book on "Digital Art" (available from Amazon at They also do some others on "Internet Art" and the like.

    The idea that there is no Internet/digital art of merit is all sadly reminiscent of those who once said "Photography? Is that art? Show me how it can possibly be art". And then some decades later "Film? Is that art? Show me how it can possibly be art". No doubt when the first artists first painted on the cave walls there was someone there going "Ugh! Art? How is that art? Ugh!"

    But I do also wonder whether this blog is merely a spoof trying to wind us up. I am baffled why so many comments are being cut from this blog - unless they have all sought to pull aside the curtain from the Wizard of Oz ...? All of them were approved by the moderators over the weekend and fully visible and informed - quite why they have disappeared since is something of a mystery ...?


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