EQUAL IN MUSIC
West-Eastern Divan Orchestra
For 20 years, the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra has been a significant presence in the international music world. In 1999, Daniel Barenboim and the late Palestinian literary scholar Edward W. Said created a workshop for young musicians to promote coexistence and intercultural dialogue. They named the orchestra and workshop after Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s collection of poems West-Eastern Divan, a central work for the development of the concept of world culture. The orchestra’s first rehearsal sessions took place in Weimar and Chicago. An equal number of Israeli and Arab musicians form the base of the ensemble, together with members from Turkey, Iran, and Spain. They meet each summer for rehearsals, followed by an international concert tour.
Since its founding the orchestra has proved time and again that music can break down barriers previously considered insurmountable. The only political aspect that prevails in the work of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra is the conviction that there is no military solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, and that the destinies of Israelis and Palestinians are inextricably linked. Through its work and existence, the orchestra demonstrates that bridges can be built to encourage people to listen to the other’s narrative. While music alone cannot resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict, it grants the individual the right and obligation to express herself or himself fully while listening to his or her neighbour. Based on this notion of equality, cooperation, and justice for all, the orchestra represents an alternative model to the current situation in the Middle East.
Since its earliest years, one of the West-Eastern Divan’s goals has been to perform in all countries represented by its musicians. Concerts in Rabat, Doha, and Abu Dhabi and the landmark concert in Ramallah in 2005 have been steps towards fulfilling this aspiration. The orchestra has also performed at the United Nations: in December 2006 in honour of Secretary General Kofi Annan at the General Assembly in New York and in October 2015 at the UN headquarters in Geneva. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon named Daniel Barenboim UN Messenger of Peace in September 2007 and designated the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra a UN Global Advocate for Cultural Understanding in February 2016.
The orchestra’s repertoire extends beyond symphonic works to opera and chamber music. Concert highlights have included performances at the Berlin Philharmonie, Milan’s Teatro alla Scala, the Musikverein in Vienna, New York’s Carnegie Hall, the Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Moscow, the Hagia Eirene Museum in Istanbul, Salle Pleyel in Paris, Madrid’s Plaza Mayor, and the Teatro Colón and Centro Cultural Kirchner in Buenos Aires. The orchestra is a regular guest at the BBC Proms and the festivals of Salzburg and Lucerne.