West-Eastern Divan Orchestra
For almost twenty years, the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra (WEDO) has been a significant presence on the international music scene. In 1999 Daniel Barenboim and the late Palestinian literary scholar Edward Said created a workshop for young musicians from Israel, Palestine and several Arab countries to promote co-existence and intercultural dialogue. They named the orchestra after Goethe’s West-östlicher Divan, a central work for the development of the concept of world culture.
The WEDO’s first 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 WEDO has proved time and again that music can break down barriers previously considered insurmountable. The only political aspect that prevails in the work of the WEDO 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. Through its work and existence, the WEDO demonstrates that bridges can be built to encourage people to listen to the narrative of others. While music alone cannot resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict, it grants the individual the right and obligation to express himself fully while listening to his neighbour. Based on this notion of equality, co-operation and justice for all, the Orchestra represents an alternative model to the current situation in the Middle East.
The Orchestra’s repertoire expands beyond symphonic works to opera and chamber music. Concert highlights include performances at the most prestigious venues in Europe, Asia and North and South America. But as well as being a regular guest at major festivals and venues, one of the WEDO’s goals is to perform in the home countries of its members. Concerts in Rabat, Doha, Abu Dhabi and the emblematic concert in Ramallah in 2005 have been steps towards fulfilling this aspiration. Daniel Barenboim and the WEDO have received numerous prestigious awards. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon named Daniel Barenboim UN messenger of peace in September 2007 and designated the WEDO as a United Nations global advocate for cultural understanding in February 2016.
The WEDO has also released a number of highly acclaimed CDs and DVDs.
The most recent addition to the Barenboim-Said projects is the Barenboim-Said Academy in Berlin. Edward Said and Daniel Barenboim considered music to be an integral part of society. Daniel Barenboim has written and lectured widely on the subject of education through music, rather than mere music education, including in his 2006 Norton Lectures at Harvard University, which were expanded and published as Everything is Connected in 2008. Since 2015, talented young musicians from the Middle East have studied at the Barenboim-Said Academy in Berlin. From autumn 2016, this university for music and the humanities, housed in the renovated former stage depot of the Berlin State Opera, started enrolling up to 90 students in a four-year bachelor programme. Also housed in the same building is the Frank Gehry-designed Pierre Boulez Saal, which has enriched Berlin’s musical life since it opened in March 2017.