This has been a remarkable weekend at the London Promenade Cocerts. Daniel Barenboim’s West-Eastern Divan Orchestra has performed in three programmes, the first and third of which were televised.
The orchestra itself is an event. Conceived by Barenboim and his friend the Palestinian born critic Edward Said, who died in 2003, it comes together each summer and consists of young musicians from Israel and Arab countries. Barenboim – surely one of the very greatest artists of the age – insists that the orchestra is not a political project but a humanitarian one. He describes it as an ongoing dialogue linking the universal, metaphysical language of music with the continuous dialogue between people of all ages. It is, he says, a forum where young people can express themselves freely and openly. ‘We believe in only two absolutely necessary political ideas – there is no military solution to the Israeli- Palestinian conflict, and the destinies of the Israeli and Palestinian’.
The orchestra has performed throughout the world in the ten years of its existence, and received a tremendous welcome, in a packed Albert Hall on Friday and yesterday. There is an amazing rapport between conductor and players, with Barenboim almost reluctantly accepting the immense applause of the audience. He seems, as he conducts, to respond to his musicians as much as to direct them. It was Liszt, Wagner and Berlioz on Friday and with another chamber concert of Mendelssohn and Berg later that evening, Barenboim smiled at the audience and said – ‘the encore is at 10.15’! It was Beethoven’s opera ‘Fidelio’ yesterday, with its inescapable message of freedom for imprisoned people. Splendid performances, rapturously received. On Friday, listening alone and yet feeling part of a community of hope in peace and justice, I was near to tears, as I am sure were many others.
There is an interesting connection with Spain for readers of these blogs. The orchestra has its summer school in Seville with some young musicians from Spain now also taking part in the orchestra as well. The Barenboim-Said Foundation is financed by the regional government of Andalucía to develop education through music projects based on the principles of coexistence and dialogue. This of course in a region – as Barenboim pointed out in an interview in the interval on Friday –where once Jews and Muslims lived together in peace.
Let Barenboim have the last word. ‘The Divan was conceived as a project against ignorance. A project against the fact that it is absolutely essential for people to get to know the other, to understand what the other thinks and feels, without necessarily agreeing with it.
I want to create a platform where the two sides can disagree and not resort to knives.’ He has done so.