Proms 2011 (2)

Still a week to go before the series comes to its end, but it came to some sort of catharsis the other night. The Israel Philharmonic with its long-term conductor Zubin Mehta were performing an attractive programme which had guaranteed a full house. I tuned in to the second half, but as soon as the orchestra was seated, shouts from various parts of the auditorium could be heard and the B.B.C. shut down the relay and played recorded versions of the same programme.

I had anticipated that this might happen as apparently the Albert Hall staff did. On arrival the audience were searched. The first half of the concert was interrupted by some thirty protesters around the hall and again after the interval. Apparently the orchestra played on despite the disturbances. It must have been painful for the audience and there were counter boos to try and stop the protesters, who were still around after the concert, some of them being interviewed. Previously they had tried to get he concert cancelled, claiming that the orchestra was complicit “in whitewashing Israel’s persistent violations of international law and human rights».

Zubin Mehta, the conductor of the orchestra for many years, said in an interview earlier in the week with the Arab Times, that he hoped Israel would take advantage of the new regimes in the Middle East. “This orchestra has done things that other great orchestras don’t have to do, thank God, but because we find ourselves in this corner here we have to take part in the ebb and flow of the life of the country. Hopefully we will play music very soon in Amman.” The B.B.C. in a press release said that they regreted disappointing Radio Three listeners who were unable to enjoy the full performance. The invitation to the orchestra had been ‘a purely musical one’. A member of the audience said after the concert that you can’t mix politics with music.

Both statements are nonsense.

Listening to music–making in this case cannot occupy a realm of its own, totally outside the real world. It can enhance, interpret, hold at a distance sometimes the ugliest experiences of life, but it can’t exist in a vacuum. That is exactly how many Palestinians live, a vacuum of another nation’s creation, looked on anxiously by the Arab states who with various degrees of failure have tried to rectify a wrong, whilst the U.S.A. massively endorses it.

The West-Eastern Divan Youth Orchestra made up of musicians from Israel and Arab countries and founded in 1998 by Daniel Barenboim and his friend, the late Edward Said, is a sign of hope that one day there will be peace and justice in a part of the world where both are lacking.


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