West-Eastern Divan Orchestra Unites Arabs and Israelis; Declaration Against War Stirs Debate

August 20, 2006

Source: The New York Times


On August 20, 2006 The New York Times reported, "It was an immensely appealing experiment, both in its idealism and in its simplicity: Let young Israeli and Arab musicians play together in an orchestra to show that communication and cooperation were possible between peoples who had long fought each other. The two men behind the idea had themselves made something of the same journey. The Argentine-born Israeli conductor Daniel Barenboim and the Palestinian-American scholar Edward Said met in 1993 and, though they were not always in agreement, they forged a deep friendship... in August 1999, six months after Mr. Barenboim had given his first piano recital in the West Bank, he and Mr. Said invited 78 Israeli and Arab musicians from 18 to 25 years old to Weimar, Germany. There, for three weeks, Mr. Barenboim, the cellist Yo-Yo Ma and other teachers gave master classes and individual lessons. And in the evenings Mr. Said led debates about politics as well as music. By the end of the workshop Israelis, Palestinians, Syrians, Lebanese and Egyptians had learned to play together and live together, and the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra was born... Since then, the orchestra has studied and toured under Mr. Barenboim's guidance and baton every summer... Yet this summer the orchestra's very existence has been tested as never before. Just days before the musicians gathered for rehearsals near Seville last month, open warfare erupted between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon. As a result for both political and security reasons, a dozen Lebanese and Syrian players decided to stay away, and a planned concert beside the pyramids near Cairo was canceled. Still, with the orchestra touring 13 cities in Spain, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy and Turkey, Mr. Barenboim believes that this latest crisis merely underlines the venture's importance."