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Barenboim to stay at Berlin opera despite bullying claims

Barenboim, 76, will be staying on as general musical director of the capital's flagship opera house
Barenboim, 76, will be staying on as general musical director of the capital's flagship opera house AFP/File
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Berlin (AFP)

World-renowned conductor Daniel Barenboim has had his contract with Berlin's State Opera extended until 2027, the city said Tuesday, despite complaints about bullying by several of his musicians.

Berlin's chief culture official Klaus Lederer told a news conference that Barenboim, 76, would be staying on as general musical director of the capital's flagship opera house, the Staatsoper.

Lederer said he had taken the decision after a three-month investigation of the accusations against the Israeli-Argentinian conductor, and that the orchestra backed his conclusions.

However he said the contract extension included a pledge to improve the working atmosphere within the 450-year-old orchestra.

"First of all, none of the legally relevant accusations could be proved," Lederer told reporters, explaining his decision.

"Secondly the vast majority of those we spoke to made clear that they were strongly interested in continuing to work with Barenboim.

"And thirdly, all those involved -- including the general music director -- accepted the challenge to improve their cooperation. That was key for me."

Barenboim's current contract was to run out in 2022. He has held the post at the Staatsoper since 1992.

Reports, initially quoting around a dozen anonymous musicians, surfaced in February claiming that Barenboim had a "temperamental" and autocratic style.

Some of his critics then publicly came forward, accusing him of indulging in fits of rage and humiliating members of his staff.

At the time, Barenboim hit back angrily at critics, accusing them of being part of a plot to drive him from the podium in Berlin.

At Tuesday's press conference, he took a more conciliatory note but acknowledged that there was bound to be tension between an ambitious, exacting conductor and his orchestra.

"Of course there are musicians who are unhappy when they hear they shouldn't play so loudly," he said.

"But that's unimportant -- the main thing is that at the end of the day, everyone can hear why the conductor interrupted them."

Barenboim said he was "very pleased" to be staying on and would do so as long as he remained in good health and the orchestra still wanted to play under his baton.

Asked how he planned to change his approach to the orchestra, Barenboim would only say: "I'll tell the orchestra that."

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