Orches­tra brings mes­sage of peace to di­vided Amer­ica

Kuwait Times - - Lifestyle Features -

Is­raeli, Pales­tinian and other Mid­dle Eastern mu­si­cians brought a mes­sage of peace this week to an Amer­ica torn by caus­tic po­lit­i­cal dis­course. For nearly 20 years, youths from sworn en­emy coun­tries have per­formed clas­si­cal mu­sic to­gether at the West-Eastern Di­van Orches­tra, the brain­child of con­duc­tor Daniel Baren­boim and late Pales­tinian Amer­i­can scholar Ed­ward Said. “We are look­ing for some­thing al­most im­pos­si­ble, but still we try,” said Kian Soltani, 26, a ris­ing Aus­trian Ira­nian cel­list who gave a fiery per­for­mance Wed­nes­day at Wash­ing­ton’s John F Kennedy Cen­ter for the Per­form­ing Arts. The orches­tra opened its pro­gram with Richard Strauss’s sym­phonic poem “Don Quixote,” in­spired by the early 17th cen­tury novel about the ro­man­tic knighter­rant who com­bats imag­i­nary tyrants.

In many ways, the piece is a metaphor for the orches­tra it­self. “If some­body would tell us that peace in the Mid­dle East was im­pos­si­ble, we wouldn’t stop fight­ing. We would still con­tinue like this be­cause we be­lieve it’s pos­si­ble,” Soltani, who played the ti­tle role, told AFP. “It’s the same for Don Quixote. He thinks he’s a knight, he thinks his dream is pos­si­ble. Ev­ery­one is telling him it’s not, but he doesn’t care.” Quixotic as it may be, the project is mak­ing its first coast-to-coast Amer­i­can tour just as the United States reels from a se­ries of deadly hate crimes.

Pol­i­tics and war have thwarted a goal to per­form in all the mem­bers’ home coun­tries. There was a con­cert in the West Bank city of Ra­mal­lah, in 2005, and none in Is­rael. “It’s a pity,” vi­o­list Miriam Manasherov, 37, told AFP. “The day that will come that we can all play in Is­rael or in the other Arab coun­tries that I can’t go to, that will be a huge suc­cess.” She plays the ro­tund San­cho Panza, who sup­ports his mas­ter gone mad as he pur­sues his ideals on love, jus­tice and peace in an ugly world.

The pair also per­formed with their sec­tions for Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Sym­phony, which evolves from dark to light in four move­ments linked by a re­cur­ring “Fate” theme. In “Don Quixote,” the hero ul­ti­mately gives up on his dream, re­turns home and dies among his loved ones. The orches­tra is hop­ing to march to­ward a dif­fer­ent fu­ture.

Chang­ing at­ti­tudes

While he ac­knowl­edges that the or­ches­trawhich bor­rows its name from Goethe’s Ger­man lyri­cal po­ems in­spired by Per­sian poet Hafez-has not had much im­pact on the ground in the Mid­dle East, Baren­boim says the project has left a “ter­rific” stamp mu­si­cally. “It has changed the at­ti­tude of ev­ery per­son who has been through it. That’s about 1,000 peo­ple,” said Ar­gen­tine-born Baren­boim, who also claims Is­raeli, Pales­tinian and Span­ish cit­i­zen­ship. “No­body who comes into this with what­ever pre­con­cep­tions he has, goes away think­ing the same way.”

The orches­tra’s first coast-to-coast US tour is a home­com­ing of sorts for Baren­boim, 75, who stepped down as the Chicago Sym­phony Orches­tra’s di­rec­tor in 2006 af­ter more than four decades that also saw him serve as con­duc­tor and pi­anist there. The Mid­west­ern city was the tour’s first stop, on Mon­day, ahead of per­for­mances in Wash­ing­ton, New York’s Carnegie Hall, Berke­ley, Cal­i­for­nia and Los An­ge­les.

Dur­ing their last US visit, in 2013, the orches­tra per­formed the Beethoven sym­phony cy­cle at Carnegie Hall, as well as in Bos­ton and Prov­i­dence, Rhode Is­land. “It is a con­flict be­tween two peo­ple who are deeply con­vinced they have a right to the same lit­tle piece of land, prefer­ably with­out the other,” Baren­boim said about the in­tractable Is­raeli-Pales­tinian con­flict. “You can­not solve this mil­i­tar­ily, un­less you kill every­body, and you can­not solve it po­lit­i­cally. “You can only solve it by com­ing to the point where both sides un­der­stand that their des­tinies are in­ex­tri­ca­bly linked and there­fore ac­cept the ex­is­tence of the other.”

De­cep­tively sim­ple as it may seem, that is the thrust be­hind the orches­tra and the Baren­boimSaid Akademie in Ber­lin, which trains gifted mu­si­cians mainly from the Mid­dle East and North Africa for a pro­fes­sional ca­reer. To drive the point home, the con­cert’s clos­ing en­core was the over­ture of Richard Wag­ner’s “The Mastersingers of Nurem­berg,” a work widely used in Nazi pro­pa­ganda and sub­verted once more by the orches­tra’s unique make-up, to rau­cous ap­plause and a stand­ing ova­tion. — AFP

The West-Eastern Di­van Orches­tra per­forms dur­ing a re­hearsal at the Kennedy Cen­ter.

Ira­nian-Aus­trian cel­list Kian Soltani (left), who plays on a 1680 cello by the broth­ers Gio­vanni and Francesco Gran­cino, and Miriam Manasherov (right) stand af­ter play­ing so­los in Richard Strauss’s “Don Quixote” at the Kennedy Cen­ter.

Ira­nian-Aus­trian cel­list Kian Soltani per­forms dur­ing an in­ter­view with AFP at the Kennedy Cen­ter.

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