The use of the words “West-Eastern Divan” in the title of the orchestra refers to a collection of poems by the German poet Johann Wolfgang Goethe. And as its founders once said, “The reason we named the orchestra this way stems from the fact that Goethe was one of the first Germans to be truly interested in other countries – he started to learn Arabic when he was over 60.”
The idea of the West-Eastern Divan was conceived in 1999 in the minds of two artists and intellectuals – the Israeli, Daniel Barenboim, and the Palestinian, the late Edward Said. They decided to create a workshop for young musicians from Israel and various countries of the Middle East with the aim of combining musical study and development with the sharing of knowledge and comprehension between people from cultures that traditionally have been rivals. In this workshop, young musicians build upon their musical knowledge while living side-by-side with people from countries that may be engaged in conflict with their own.
The West-Eastern Divan is not only a music project, but also a forum for dialogue and reflection on the Palestinian-Israeli problem. Through the cross-cultural contacts made by the artists, the project could have an important role in overcoming political and cultural differences between the countries represented in the workshop. In this model, an orchestra serves as a good example of democracy and civilized living.
The project is led by Barenboim and, since Edward Said’s death, by his widow, Mariam Said, and is financed by the Junta de Andalucía and other private sponsors. Throughout its seven years of existence, this project has consistently proved that music is a useful way to break down barriers that were, up until now, considered insurmountable. It suggests that bridges can be built that encourage people to get closer, showing that it is possible for people from different backgrounds to co-exist peacefully – much in the same way that these young musicians will share scores, dining halls, and, above all, a passion for music.
While music will obviously not solve the Arab-Israeli conflict, it does play a role in bringing people together and allowing them to get to know one another. The only political aspect that permeates the Workshop is the understanding that there is no military solution to the conflict.
An equal number of Israeli and Arab musicians provide the base of the orchestra, joined by Andalusian players. An additional group of students from Spain and Palestine attend the workshop as observers.
The West-Eastern Divan Orchestra meets every summer in Andalusia. With an intensive work plan – each session lasting an entire day and combining different activities- the young artists develop their musical abilities within a peaceful environment. Once the rehearsal period is over, the orchestra embarks on an international concert tour.
Since its creation in 1999, the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra has performed in several countries in Europe (Spain, Germany, United Kingdom, France, and Switzerland) and America (US, Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil). In August 2003 the orchestra played for the first time in an Arab country with a concert in Rabat, Morocco; and in 2005 it performed in the Middle East for the very first time with a concert in Ramallah, Palestine, which was broadcasted live by EuroArts Music.
CoverThe West-Eastern Divan Orchestra already has a few very successful recordings. They include a live CD and a DVD of the 2004 tour closing concert at Victoria Hall in Geneva; a live recording of the emblematic concert performed at Ramallah’s Cultural Palace (2005); and a double DVD featuring the documentary “Knowledge Is The Beginning” (Warner Music).
In 2007 EuroArts Music released the DVD “Barenboim & West-Eastern Divan Orchestra – Live from the Alhambra“. The music event was broadcast live from the Palacio de Carlos V, Alhambra in Spanish Granada, thus hundreds of thousands of viewers across Europe were able to experience Barenboim’s conducting and this special orchestra