In 1999, Daniel Barenboim, together with the late Palestinian literary scholar Edward Said and by invitation of the Kunstfest Weimar, created a workshop for young musicians from Israel, Palestine and various Arab countries of the Middle East seeking to enable intercultural dialogue and to promote the experience of collaborating on a matter of common interest. Daniel Barenboim and Edward Said named the Orchestra and workshop after Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s collection of poems entitled “West-Eastern Divan”, a central work for the evolution of the concept of world culture.
The West-Eastern Divan Orchestra’s first sessions took place in Weimar and Chicago. In 2002 it found a permanent home in Seville, Spain, where it is generously supported by the regional government of Andalusia (Junta de Andalucia). Additional support was raised by the creation of the Fundación Barenboim-Said and the Barenboim-Said Foundation USA in 2004 and the Daniel Barenboim Foundation in 2008. All three foundations work in concert to raise money and organise the Orchestra workshops and tours, but also to develop various music education projects in Israel, Palestine and Spain.
The West-Eastern Divan Orchestra has proved time and again that music can break down barriers previously considered insurmountable. The only political aspect prevailing the West-Eastern Divan’s work is the conviction that there will never be a military solution to the Middle East conflict, and that the destinies of the Israelis and Palestinians are inextricably linked. Through its work and existence the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra demonstrates that bridges can be built to encourage people to listen to one another.
Music by itself can, of course, not resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict. Music grants the individual the right and obligation to express himself fully while listening to his or her neighbour. Based on this notion of equality, cooperation and justice for all, the Orchestra represents an alternative model to the current situation in the Middle East.
An equal number of Israeli and Arab musicians form the base of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, together with a group of Spanish musicians. They meet each summer in Seville for a workshop, where rehearsals are complemented by lectures and discussions, which is then followed by an international concert tour. Since its creation in 1999, the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra has performed in most European countries, the Americas and the Middle East. 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 broadcast live by ARTE.
Concert highlights have included performances at the Hagia Eirene Museum in Istanbul, the Salle Pleyel in Paris, Berlin’s Philharmonic Hall, the Teatro alla Scala in Milan, the Carnegie Hall in New York, the Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Moscow, the Plaza Mayor in Madrid and the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires as well as a concert in honour of Secretary-General Kofi Annan at the General Assembly Hall of the United Nations in New York on 18 December 2006. The West Eastern Divan Orchestra also regularly appears at such prestigious festivals like the Lucerne Festival, the BBC Proms and the Salzburg Festival, where it holds yet another residency this summer.
The West-Eastern Divan Orchestra has released a number of highly praised CDs and DVDs on Warner Classics and EuroArts. They include a live CD and DVD of the 2004 tour closing concert at Victoria Hall in Geneva as well as of the emblematic concert performed at the Cultural Palace in Ramallah (2005), among others. The documentary “Knowledge is the beginning” has won several international film award, among them an International Emmy in 2006.