Sounds of harmony at concert of Arab, Israeli musicians

Updated: 2011-08-08 12:40

By Mu Qian (China Daily)

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Sounds of harmony at concert of Arab, Israeli musicians

It was a rather unusual concert of Israeli and Arab musicians performing Beethoven's symphonies, but going by the response in the Forbidden City Concert Hall of Beijing, the audience seemed to enjoy it as much as the performers.

"I'm delighted to be here with the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra to perform in China, and extend the West-East to the Far East," said Mariam Said, wife of the late Palestinian-American academic Edward Said who co-founded the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra.

The other co-founder, Argentine-Israeli conductor Daniel Barenboim, led the orchestra to give its debut concert in China on Friday, though Barenboim himself has performed in China four years ago at the Beijing Music Festival.

"The idea was to create a forum within the activities of Weimar, European Capital of Culture of 1999, where young people from all countries of the Middle East could spend time playing music and discuss topics of common interest," Barenboim says about the origin of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, which was named after an anthology of poems by Goethe.

The forum received over 200 applications from the Arabic world in 1999, which surprised both Barenboim and Said. Although not all those applicants were high-level musicians, there were enough good players among them to attend the workshop and form an orchestra with their Israeli Jewish colleagues.

"That's how we started. When it was finished we all realized that it was too important for us to have done it only once, and we had to continue," Barenboim says.

Members of the orchestra have been meeting every summer since and from 2002, the orchestra has been based in Seville in Spain's Andalucia.

"Not many people know that Andalucia is the only place in the world in history where Jews and Muslims lived in peace for seven centuries," Barenboim says.

The West-Eastern Divan Workshop, spread over weeks, is held every summer in Andalucia. Once it ends, the concert tour of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra begins.

The orchestra has performed around the world, including Israel and the Palestinian territories.

"We hope to bring these young musicians together not only physically but also in spirit, while they are still able to maintain their knowledge and belief," Barenboim says. "It is not our intention to create a political line, but to create a climate in which people want to hear and understand the point of view of the others."

Barenboim and the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra will give two more concerts in Shanghai on Sunday and Monday.


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