Campus & Community

Barenboim named Charles Eliot Norton Professor

4 min read

Conductor will deliver Norton Lectures

World-renowned conductor, pianist, and recording artist Daniel Barenboim has been appointed the 2006 Charles Eliot Norton Professor of Poetry at Harvard University, it was announced today (Feb. 3). He joins a list of distinguished arts scholars and professionals who have received the Norton honor since its establishment in 1925. Barenboim will deliver the Charles Eliot Norton Lectures beginning in spring 2006.

Currently music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and general music director of the Deutsche Staatsoper, Berlin, Barenboim’s career has spanned more than 50 years. He is best known as a musical “bridge builder” and has been honored both for his virtuosity as a musician and for his work toward peace in the Middle East.

“It is a great honor,” Barenboim said. “I look forward with joy and not without trepidation to exchanging views with Harvard students, speaking about the phenomenon of sound, its relation to silence, and the very nature of music as human expression. A central theme in my musical life has been and continues to be the idea that music is at the nexus of cultural and humanistic disciplines. In my lectures I look forward to exploring the intimate relationship between music, other arts, and the humanities.”

“I am doubly pleased that Maestro Barenboim will deliver the Norton Lectures in 2006,” said William C. Kirby, Edith and Benjamin Geisinger Professor of History, and dean of Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences. “As a world-renowned musician he will bring to the Harvard community a wealth of knowledge that only he, one of the most accomplished in his field, could have. And, as a passionate and thoughtful ambassador of goodwill and peace, having forged alliances between long-time enemies through music, he will be a welcome messenger here where audiences will be eager to hear about his triumphs in bringing disparate groups together.

Barenboim made his debut as a pianist in Vienna and Rome in 1952, in Paris in 1955, in London in 1956, and in New York in 1957 with Leopold Stokowski conducting the “Symphony of the Air.” From then on, he made annual concert tours of the United States and Europe and soon became known as one of the most versatile pianists of his generation. He recorded the most important works in the piano repertory, including complete cycles of the piano sonatas of Mozart and Beethoven and concertos by Mozart, Beethoven (with Otto Klemperer), Brahms (with Sir John Barbirolli), and Bartok (with Pierre Boulez).

Following his debut as a conductor with the New Philharmonia Orchestra in London in 1967, Barenboim went on to become music director of the Orchestre de Paris, and then to the posts he currently holds. In 2000, the Staatskapelle Berlin appointed him chief conductor for life. He has also had a long and distinguished association with the Berlin Philharmonic and maintains a close relationship with the Vienna Philharmonic.

“We are delighted at the prospect of having Daniel Barenboim among us,” said Thomas Kelly, chair of the Department of Music. “This versatile and thoughtful musician brings his high art and his intellect to an intellectual community that practices and values the arts: We expect great things.”

Barenboim, an Israeli Jew, worked closely over many years with Palestinian-born writer and Columbia University professor Edward Saïd, who died in 2003. They collaborated on several musical events, such as Barenboim’s first concert on the West Bank, and the creation of the West-Eastern Divan Workshop, where talented young musicians from Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Tunisia, and Israel came together to make music on neutral ground. Barenboim and Saïd received Spain’s prestigious 2002 Prince of Asturias Concord Prize for this work. Barenboim was awarded the Tolerance Prize by the Protestant Academy of Tutzing for his efforts to bring Palestinians and Israelis together through music. The same month, the president of Germany awarded him the Grosses Bundesverdienstkreuz, the highest honor given to someone who is not a head of state.

The Charles Eliot Norton Professorship of Poetry was established in 1925 in memory of Harvard’s first fine arts professor, who taught the subject from 1874 to 1898. Under the original terms of the gift from Charles Chauncey Stillman, Harvard College class of 1898, the chair is awarded to prominent figures in poetry in the broadest sense. Past chairs have included literary figures such as T.S. Eliot and scholar Harold Bloom; those in the fine arts such as minimalist painter and sculptor Frank Stella, and, last year, feminist art theorist Linda Nochlin; and musicians such as Igor Stravinsky (1939-1940), John Cage (1988-1989), and Luciano Berio (1993-1994).

– Robert Mitchell and Lesley Bannatyne