Arab-Israeli Orchestra Makes It to Ramallah For three years, a group of Israeli and Arab musicians have performed with the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra. Now they will play for the first time in their home region. Conductor Daniel Barenboim tells John Ydstie about Sunday's concert in Ramallah.
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Arab-Israeli Orchestra Makes It to Ramallah

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Arab-Israeli Orchestra Makes It to Ramallah

Arab-Israeli Orchestra Makes It to Ramallah

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JOHN YDSTIE, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm John Ydstie.

The hope driving Israel's pullout this week from Gaza is peace through separation, but this weekend, a group of young Israeli and Arab musicians has a different hope, to foster peace together. They're members of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra and they perform tomorrow night in Ramallah on the West Bank. The orchestra grew out of the relationship between renowned conductor Daniel Barenboim, an Israeli citizen, and the late Palestinian thinker and writer Edward Said. Earlier this month, the orchestra released its first recording.

(Soundbite of orchestra)

YDSTIE: Joining us from Ramallah is conductor Daniel Barenboim.

Welcome to the program, maestro.

Mr. DANIEL BARENBOIM (Conductor): Thank you very much.

YDSTIE: This orchestra of young musicians began touring three years ago, but you've never brought them to Israel or Palestine before now. Why did you choose this moment? Did you know you'd be there during the Gaza pullout?

Mr. BARENBOIM: No, of course not. This concert was planned long before. There is--this orchestra is made up of Israeli musicians, Palestinians, Lebanese, Syrians, Jordanians and Egyptians, and I think the real dimension of the project will be achieved when the orchestra is able to perform in all the countries that are represented in it, which is not the case now. So--but you have to start somewhere. I was very pleased to receive an invitation from the Palestinians, and I must say then everything was made possible because everybody collaborated in a most wonderful way. The Spanish government gave us Spanish diplomatic passports for every member of the orchestra, which is already an incredible step in itself, and then the Palestinians invited us and made sure that everything would be all right for the security. The Israelis cooperated extremely well and let everybody through at the checkpoints and in the borders, and the Arabs also, the nations that are in a state of war with Israel, like Syria and Lebanon, they did not raise any objections. So here we are and it's a very important day for us.

YDSTIE: Are you or the musicians nervous about the venue for tomorrow's concert?

Mr. BARENBOIM: No, I'm not nervous at all. The Arabs from Syria and Lebanon especially and then from Egypt were I think nervous coming over from Jordan to go through the checkpoint. The Israelis are, of course, ever slight apprehension about coming here, not having their own protection I think, but there's a really very elated atmosphere and everybody's very much in a sense of, I would say, great excitement.

YDSTIE: As I understand it, this orchestra trains during the summer months in southern Spain, and for many of these young musicians, it's the first real interaction with someone from the other side. How do they do? How are they doing?

Mr. BARENBOIM: Well, you know, this is the seventh year already we're doing this and there are many of the young people that have come, several times, even every one of the seven years, but for the newcomers, of course, it's something to get used to because they've never heard the others' point of view, as it were, and they're not used to dealing with a narrative which is very different from their own, and this is what this orchestra and what this project is about. It has been sometimes described as a wonderful project for peace, for understanding, but it's not. The message that I think we give is that it is imperative to know and understand the other and understand the rationality of the narrative of the other, not necessarily agree with it.

YDSTIE: What does music especially contribute to this, though?

Mr. BARENBOIM: Look, music, you cannot really describe or articulate in words the content of a Beethoven symphony. We're playing the Beethoven fifth symphony here tomorrow. You know, if I were able to articulate and explain the content of the Beethoven fifth symphony, it would not have been necessary for us to come here and play 'cause music can only be really--its content can only be expressed in sound.

So the only thing one can say is that it has something to do with the human condition, 'cause Beethoven was not just a master of counterpoint harmony, rhythm and orchestration, but he was a great human being that had something that to him was very important to express and he chose to express it through sound. And this is why these young people in this orchestra, this is how we understand life, that you learn from life in order to make your music richer and you learn from music in order to make your life better.

YDSTIE: Is there something about making music together that generates trust?

Mr. BARENBOIM: Yes, of course, because music is about integration. You know, when a musician plays two notes, he is to integrate everything--the harmony, the rhythm, the melody, the speed, the volume, etc., etc. If he's unable to do that, he cannot play. And since there is a wonderful combination of order and passion in the act of music-making, when two people do that together at the same time with the same intensity, it creates a bond between them and it creates a bond of trust. If will not solve the conflict, we know that, but it has reduced the level of hatred to zero only for this small number of people that have been through this project, five or 600 in the last years, and only for the time that they are here. This is not a lot, but it's also not so little.

YDSTIE: Conductor Daniel Barenboim speaking with us from Ramallah. The West-Eastern Divan Orchestra has just released its first CD and tomorrow makes its Middle East debut performing in Ramallah on the West Bank.

Thank you, Maestro Barenboim.

Mr. BARENBOIM: Thank you very much.

(Soundbite of orchestra)

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