This week the BBC Proms 2009 season has featured two concerts by the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, founded ten years ago by Jewish Daniel Barenboim and Edward Said, the Palestinian intellectual and writer, now sadly deceased. The members of the orchestra comprise of Jews and Arabs, all consummate musicians, and has gained a reputation, under the baton of Barenboim, for musical excellence. But not only this, similar to how ICAHD brings Palestinians and Israelis to work together, it represents a microcosmic vision of how Arabs and Jews can live cheek by jowl and, through making music together in the Western classical tradition, have a rich exchange of their values and heritage. They after all have a shared heritage from ancient times, as still now apparent in a partially shared Semitic ethnicity and in the linguistic roots of Arabic and modern Hebrew. Could these be small examples that could be reflected large-scale in ICAHD Director Jeff Halper’s concept of a viable future for a regional federation of Middle Eastern states?
The name East-Western Divan derives from the name of a collection of Goethe’s poetry, inspired by his study of Persian poetry.
Barenboim states that this orchestra will not in itself bring Arab-Israeli peace, but it creates a space for breaking down ignorance and promoting trust and understanding.
In the coverage of the first of these West-Eastern Divan Orchestra Proms, Radio 3 included an interview with a female Israeli violinist and a male Lebanese cellist, who both speak eloquently about how playing with the orchestra has impacted on their lives and their worldviews, and the difficulties of conveying what they have learnt to friends and families back home, who are fearful of letting go of the comfort of their prejudices. [3rd Sep – Unfortunately, the interview is no longer available now on BBC iPlayer]
The Israeli lady also talks of the debate which happened within the orchestra about whether to play the music of Wagner, so much appropriated by the Nazis. Eventually, the orchestra decided to perform music by the composer; the young violinist describes how she felt when the orchestra performed at the Wagnerian Bayreuth Festival, once a focal point of the zeal of National Socialism, since Hitler saw in Wagner’s operas an embodiment of his own vision of the German nation. Barenboim himself has performed Wagner music in Israel, where it still tends to be shunned.