Co-founded by the Israeli conductor/pianist Daniel Barenboim and the late Palestinian author/scholar Edward Said, the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra represents a visionary cultural response to human conflict – an ensemble of brilliant young Arab and Israeli players who come together to make music, not war. Launched in Weimar in 1999, and named after an anthology of Persianinspired verses by the German poet (and Weimar resident) Goethe, this inspiring example of musical bridge-building is now based in Seville, in the former Moorish kingdom of Al-Andaluz – “the only place in the world,” Barenboim says, “where Jews and Arabs ever lived together in peace”. The orchestra’s annual tours are now among the most eagerly anticipated fixtures in the international musical calendar, and its this year’s London appearance, as part of the 120th-anniversary Proms season, also marked a significant date for Barenboim himself: aged 72, he was celebrating 65 years (less a day) since making his debut in his native Buenos Aires. His programme cleverly contrasts the anti-Romantic terseness and crystalline beauty of Schoenberg’s Chamber Symphony No. 1, in its original scoring for just 15 soloists – “a taut, rhythmic performance with a fine sense of dramatic momentum” (Evening Standard) – with the tempestuous emotionalism of Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony, where “the orchestra rose to all technical challenges in an interpretation of overwhelming energy and power” (The Guardian), while the essentially conversational, non-confrontational, nature of Beethoven’s Triple Concerto could almost serve as a paradigm for the orchestra’s egalitarian ethos. Here, in an especially harmonious performance, Barenboim himself at the piano is partnered by the Israeli violinist Guy Braunstein (a former concertmaster of the Berliner Philharmoniker) and the orchestra’s Austro-Iranian principal cellist Kian Soltani, who together “offered urbane poise, ideally suited to this relaxed, airily melodic work” (The Telegraph). Visibly shocked by the storm of applause, Barenboim was coaxed into giving not just one but three encores – Sibelius’s dreamy Valse triste, Glinka’s thrilling Ruslan and Lyudmila overture and a playful tango by José Carli, in tribute to his native Argentina – as well as a brief speech in which he didn’t talk politics but simply expressed his joy in performing with this extraordinary band of young players.


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West- Eastern Divan Orchestra