Biography

West-Eastern Divan Orchestra

Current as of August 2022

For more than 20 years, the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra has been a significant presence on the international music scene. In 1999, Daniel Barenboim and the Palestinian literary scholar Edward Said created an orchestra to promote a dialogue between the different cultures of the Middle East through music-making and co-existence. They named the Orchestra and workshop after Goethe’s West-östlicher Divan, a central work for the development of the concept of world culture. 

The first rehearsal sessions took place in Weimar and Chicago. An equal number of Israeli and Arab musicians form the base of the Orchestra, together with a group of Turkish, Iranian and Spanish members. They meet each summer for a workshop, where rehearsals are complemented by lectures and discussions and followed by an international tour.  

The only political aspect that prevails in the work of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra is the conviction that there is no military solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict and that the destinies of Israelis and Palestinians are inextricably linked. Music gives each individual the right and obligation to express themselves fully and to listen to their neighbours. Based on this concept of equality, cooperation and justice, the Orchestra presents an alternative model to the current situation in the Middle East and has proved time and again that music can build bridges and remove barriers previously considered insurmountable. 

In its years of existence, the Orchestra has developed into an internationally renowned ensemble that has found a home in the world’s most prestigious concert halls and festivals, including the Salzburg Festival, the BBC Proms, Carnegie Hall and the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires. The Orchestra has performed with internationally sought-after soloists, including Anne-Sophie Mutter, Yo-Yo Ma and Martha Argerich, who have since been made honorary members. 

The Orchestra’s desire to play in its members’ homelands remains one of its primary concerns. Concerts in Rabat, Doha, Abu Dhabi and the emblematic concert in Ramallah in 2005 have been steps towards fulfilling this aspiration. Other important appearances include a farewell concert in honour of the then UN Secretary General Kofi Annan at the UN General Assembly in New York in 2006 and a concert on the border between North and South Korea in 2011. 

Former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon appointed Daniel Barenboim a UN Ambassador for Peace in September 2007 and the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra a UN Ambassador for Cultural Understanding in February 2016. The Orchestra has featured in international television broadcasts and various critically acclaimed CDs and DVDs, including award-winning documentaries. 

The work of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra paved the way for the establishment of the Barenboim-Said Academy and the Pierre Boulez Hall in Berlin. Regular teaching for up to 90 students began in autumn 2016 with a four-year bachelor’s degree in music and humanities, where shared and reflected practices are more important than is customary in music education. The Academy is committed to the educational spirit of Edward Said and Daniel Barenboim and their joint attempt to overcome ideological rifts. 

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