The legendary conductor and pianist Daniel Barenboim will be performing in the end of January/beginning of February 2010 in the Royal Festival Hall, in London. I was meant to get tickets to see him conducting the Berlin Staatskapelle through Beethoven and Schoenberg masterpieces, but too late... The cheapest tickets had already been sold out!
I first heard of Barenboim not through music, but through literature. He wrote with the late critic Edward W. Said "Parallels and Paradoxes: Explorations in Music and Society". I got the Portuguese version a long time ago in Brazil (Companhia das Letras, 2002) and it has been one of my favourite books since then, those ones you take wherever you go and which comforts your soul.
Close friends, Barenboim (1945), a Jewish Israeli-Argentinian, and Said (1935-2003) , a Christian Palestine, created in 1999 the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra to bring together young musicians from Israel and the Middle East, to provide them with a space to share skills about music and to encourage dialogue and appreciation among people whose countries have been torn apart by an endless war. The Barenboim-Said Foundation has been developing remarkable initiatives in terms of music education, such as the production of the first Palestinian opera and a music kindergarten in Ramallah.
Music helps to build mutual understanding because it touches universal emotions. It sees no boundaries, frontiers, colours or shapes, political or religious differences and stimulate you to look beyond the visible and foreseeable. As the title of a film made to register the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra suggests, knowledge is the beginning to create a world with more peace and respect to others.
Because of the orchestra, young people from countries which had experienced war in the past (or present) had to sit down and work together. It led to memorable situations, as Barenboim describes in "Parallels and Paradoxes". "A Syrian boy told me he had never met a Israeli boy and that the word Israeli meant everything negative that you could imagine to happen to your country and to the Arab world. But after a while both had to share the same music stand. They were trying to play the same note, play with the same dynamics, the same arch movement, the same sound, the same expression. They were trying to do something together. Simple like that. They were trying to do something together, something they both liked, something they were passionate about. Well, after they had managed to play the same note together, they could not look at each other on the same way as before, because they had shared a common experience (...)". (note: free translation from the Portuguese translation)
Barenboim is considered to be the first person to hold both Israeli and Palestinian passports, a fact that irritated many people. When he was granted the Palestinian citizenship, two years ago, Barenboim told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz that he had accepted the new status "(...) because I believe that the destinies of...the Israeli people and the Palestinian are inextricably linked. We are blessed - or cursed - to live with each other. And I prefer the first".