Created in 1989 and carrying a prize of 15 million yen (currently about US$129,000) each, the five Praemium Imperiale awards are given annually for outstanding achievement in five fields not covered by the Nobel Prizes: music, painting, sculpture, architecture and theater/film.
Born in Argentina, raised there and in Israel, a citizen of both those countries and Spain, and a resident of Berlin, the 64-year-old Barenboim has served as music director or chief conductor of the Orchestre de Paris, the Chicago Symphony, the Deutsche Staatsoper Berlin and the Staatskapelle Berlin, of which he is Chief Conductor for Life; last year he was named principal guest conductor at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan. His career as a solo pianist and chamber musician stretches over more than five decades and continues to this day.
The Praemium award citation cites in particular Barenboim's well-known campaign against the taboo on performing Wagner in Israel, his activism on behalf of peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, an ensemble of young Arab and Israeli musicians which Barenboim founded in 1999 with his great friend and co-author, the Palestinian-American scholar Edward Said.
Other winners of 2007 Praemium Imperiale awards are Daniel Buren for painting, Tony Cragg for sculpture, and Ellen Stewart, the founder and director of La Mama Experimental Theater Center in New York, for theater/film. The winners of the Praemium for architecture are the Swiss team of Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, who are designing the new Elbe Philharmonie in Hamburg, scheduled to open in 2010.