West-Eastern Divan Orchestra’s Israeli and Palestinian Musicians Play for Peace
The orchestra’s co-founder Daniel Barenboim has stated that its “message of peace must be louder than ever”
The West-Eastern Divan Orchestra was formed in 1999 by Argentinean-Israeli pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim and the late Palestinian academic Edward Said to promote intercultural dialogue.
Beginning as a music workshop for young musicians from Israel and the Arab countries of the Middle East to learn music, the orchestra has performed with messages of peace and tolerance.
An equal number of Israeli and Arab musicians form the core of the ensemble, alongside members from Turkey, Iran, and Spain. The musicians meet each summer for rehearsals, before embarking on an international concert tour.
In 2016, Barenboim established the Barenboim-Said Academy based on the same principles as the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra.
The academy now has 78 students — about 70% from the Middle East and North Africa — many of whom will join the Divan Orchestra, The New York Times reported.
“Our musicians of the West-Eastern Divan, our students in the Barenboim-Said Academy, are almost all directly affected [by the Israeli–Palestinian conflict],” wrote Barenboim in a statement on the orchestra’s website. “Many of the musicians live in the region, and the others also have many ties to their homeland. This strengthens my conviction that there can only be one solution to this conflict: one on the basis of humanism, justice and equality — and without armed force and occupation.
“Our message of peace must be louder than ever. The greatest danger is that all the people who so ardently desire peace will be drowned out by extremists and violence,” he continued. “But any analysis, any moral equation we might draw up, must have as its core this basic understanding: there are people on both sides.
"Humanity is universal and the recognition of this truth on both sides is the only way. The suffering of innocent people on either side is absolutely unbearable.”
His statement further reads:
“For my understanding of this more than 70-year-old conflict, my friendship with Edward Said is the key experience. We found in each other a counterpart who can take us further and help us to see the supposed other more clearly and understand him better. We have recognised and found each other in our common humanity. For me, our joint work with the West-Eastern Divan, which finds its logical continuation and perhaps even its culmination in the Barenboim-Said Academy, is probably the most important activity of my life.
“In the current situation, we naturally ask ourselves about the significance of our joint work in both the orchestra and the academy. It may seem little - but the mere fact that Arab and Israeli musicians share a podium at every concert and make music together, that is of immense value to us. Over the years, through this commonality of music-making, but also through our countless, sometimes heated discussions, we have learned to better understand the supposed other, to approach them and to find common ground in our humanity and in music. We start and end all discussions, no matter how controversial, with the fundamental understanding that we are all equal human beings who deserve peace, freedom and happiness.
“This may sound naïve, but it is not: for it is this understanding that seems to be completely lost in the conflict on both sides today. Our experience shows that this message has reached many people in the region and around the world. We must, want and will continue to believe that music can bring us closer together in our humanity.”
Barenboim’s statement was also featured in The Guardian as an opinion essay.
The West-Eastern Divan Orchestra’s upcoming concerts can be found here.