West-Eastern Divan Orchestra Promotes Understanding

West-Eastern Divan Orchestra Promotes Understanding

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On August 21, 2005, an orchestra of Jewish and Arab musicians played Ramallah in the West Bank. The concert was was to honor and celebrate the life of one of the founders, Edward Said, who died in 2003.

The orchestra was the dream child of Conductor, Daniel Barenboim and writer/professor, Edward Said. Barenboim was born in Argentina to Jewish-Russian parents, while Said was born in Palestine. They had a chance meeting in the early 1990s, formed a friendship, and came up with the plan to use music as a way to teach understanding.

The orchestra took two years to put together. It includes approximately 100 musicians from Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Israel, and Lebanon. They range from 14 to 25 years old. The musicians were trained classically and had some famous teachers such as Yo Yo Ma.

Creating beautiful music isn’t the only goal. Barenboim and Said hoped to spark understanding and open dialog between the musicians. They then hoped the orchestra and the Barenboim-Said Foundation would promote understanding throughout the world especially among young Arabs and Israelis.

The concert was well received. The audience, made up of Israelis and Palestinians, cheered wildly and clearly enjoyed the performance. As coincidence would have it, the performance coincided with the removal of Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip. There was some worry about security problems, but the concert went on without a hitch.

[Photograph courtesy of Karl-Erich Bennion, www.sxc.hu]

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