Friday, August 15, 2008

The Middle East In Harmony

Barenboim Conducts the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra

In my profile I list my favourite music. There are 14 entries. Yesterday evening, three of these came together when Ann and I went to the BBC Proms and saw (1) Daniel Barenboim conduct (2) the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra who as an encore played (3) Wagner - the overture from Die Meistersinger.

The programme covered the work of Haydn, Schoenberg and Brahms. These were all brilliantly performed. Schoenberg is not someone we normally listen to, although we recognised the considerable technical skills shown by the Orchestra in playing his Variations for Orchestra, Op 31. Yet nothing could surpass the Wagner for reasons that went way beyond (and came together with) the telling skills and standing of the music.

Barenboim is Jewish, holding both Israeli and Palestinian passports. The Orchestra is drawn 50-50 from Arab nations and Israel. Yet the encore they chose was from what many see as the most anti-semitic of Wagner's works.

We didn't think that any other encore could have been so telling. Barenboim and the Orchestra have faced up to a major division which is played upon to create turmoil in the Middle East. They faced up to anti-semitism and the conflicts between Israel and the Arab world with that which transcends hatred - peace, sharing and harmony.

The West-Eastern Divan Orchestra was founded in 1991 by the late Palestinian academic Edward Said and the Jewish conductor and pianist Daniel Barenboim. The West-Eastern Divan Orchestra are the best of the Middle East and the marker for us all. We can now listen to Wagner without feeling guilty. We have seen that his hatefulness has now been transcended and that this is no longer the marker.

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