Thirteen years ago, acclaimed Israeli pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim and Palestinian-American scholar and activist Edward Said brought together musicians from Israel and the Arab world to form the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra. Originally conceived as a summer program of musical rehearsals by day, and lectures and discussions at night, it has grown into a year-round endeavor with a touring orchestra, a training orchestra and a musical education program in the West Bank. The idea is to promote peaceful co-existence among people.
If that sounds like a lofty, unattainable goal, Barenboim is quick to point out that he is under no illusions. “The Divan is not a love story, and it is not a peace story.” The point of the orchestra, he says, is to create a space for dialogue where everyone is treated equally. Even as the violence in the Middle East has intensified, their mission has intensified. “The more the situation is difficult and desperate, the more I believe there is a need to create spaces of dialogue,” he says. “You don’t change a desperate situation into a better one by ignoring the other.”
Last year, the orchestra embarked on an ambitious three-year Beethoven project: recording, touring and discussing the composer’s powerful appeal to people around the globe. In January, the orchestra appeared for just the second time in the United States, performing in Boston, Providence, R.I., and New York.
Jeffrey Brown spoke to Barenboim and several musicians after their appearance at Boston Symphony Hall. His report will be posted here later Tuesday. Here is a portion of the final movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3, “The Eroica,” which was performed at the hall:
Brown also interviewed Mariam Said, who took over her husband’s leadership role with the orchestra, following his death in 2003: