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As a humanitarian project for reconciliation, the West-Eastern Divan is clearly a worthy initiative that deserves the widest support. And much of its attraction for young musicians lies in the chance to work with a legendary artist. Yet as an Egyptian oboist who had been in the Divan since its inception six years ago told me 'It is not like any other orchestral course. Not just because of the Maestro, but because of the special atmosphere'. The same was evident from my conversations with other talented young musicians of the orchestra, an Israeli violinist currently based in London, an Egyptian double bassist currently at the Berlin Hochshule, and a Christian Palestinian violinist from Nazareth. He had studied at the Tel Aviv Academy before going to Berlin and pointed out, interestingly, that 'I have more in common with the Israelis than with some of the players from other Arab countries.'

Inevitably the concert was accompanied by many words. A short tribute to Edward Said by the LRB editor was followed by a speech by Said's widow, highlighting how the Divan was the project closest to her husband's heart. It had been his aim to see the orchestra perform in Arab capitals and in Israel, and it was towards that goal, Mrs Said stressed, that they would continue to strive. To date they have only played in Morocco, because of the political climate, yet one hopes for developments. And who would not hope that similar Israeli-Palestinian projects might grow and develop in many different spheres and disciplines? Through such inter-cultural and inter-disciplinary dialogue, a new understanding might evolve to transcend political differences and perhaps forge a path to reconciliation. The West-Eastern Divan, like the recently published Barenboim-Said book on music and society Parallels and Paradoxes which embodies the same ideals and is dedicated to the orchestral musicians, is a compelling testament of faith and a beacon of hope.

Copyright © 4 November 2004 Malcolm Miller, London UK


Parallels and Paradoxes - Explorations in Music and Society
Daniel Barenboim & Edward W Said
Edited and with a preface by Ara Guzelimian
Bloomsbury Publishing plc, 2003, xvii, 186pp
ISBN 0 7475 6736 4 Hardback, ISBN 0 7475 6684 4 Export paperback

Malcolm Miller's concert review first appeared in October 2004 in the journal Jewish Renaissance.

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