Barenboim Marks Carnegie Hall Milestone

The Associated Press
Monday, January 22, 2007; 1:34 AM

NEW YORK -- Daniel Barenboim was a model of modesty.

Becoming the first person to play Carnegie Hall on the exact 50th anniversary of his debut, he walked onto the stage Saturday night in a black cutaway with a black shirt and sat in front of the Steinway. There weren't any speeches or any signs. In the program, there was only a small mention of his accomplishment.

Then, over the next 2 1/2 hours, he gave an elegant performance of Book I of Bach's "The Well-Tempered Clavier," the opening of a two-day series that concluded with Book II on Sunday.

When he made his Carnegie debut as a 14-year-old in 1957, he played Prokofiev's First Piano Concerto with conductor Leopold Stokowski and the NBC Symphony of the Air. While studying in Paris under Nadia Boulanger in Paris, he auditioned for Stokowski, and those lessons with Boulanger helped determine what he chose to play for his golden anniversary at Carnegie.

"When I arrived for my first lesson, `The Well-Tempered Clavier' was on the music stand of the grand piano. She turned the pages forward and back; finally she settled on the Prelude in E minor from Book I," he wrote in a program note. "And she said, `Right my boy, now play it for me in A minor.' She held a wooden ruler in her hand, and every time my fingers played a wrong note, she tapped them with it. Thus, `The Well-Tempered Clavier' became the foundation for everything."

Book I, composed from about 1710-22, gave rise to a second book, composed from 1738-44. Each book begins in C-Major, continues with C-Minor and goes on until No. 24, in B-Minor. Some in the audience followed along on scores, apparently interested in noting which edition Barenboim was using.

Just as well known for his conducting, he seems to view the piano as an ensemble of keys that come together as much as a singular instrument. In his program note, he says he emphasizes harmony in his playing of the Bach, an approach that has been criticized by some, who prefer the counterpoint.

"I consider a purely academic approach to the past very dangerous because it is linked to ideology and fundamentalism, even in music," he said. "`The Well-Tempered Clavier' makes a statement about everything that preceded it in music. It makes a statement about music in the time of Bach. But it also indicates the direction that music might take as it develops _ as indeed it has developed."

His playing was delicate, establishing a calming mood in the 2,800-seat auditorium. A unique way of celebrating a big anniversary by an unusual man.


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