The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Conductor builds musical bridge across W. Asia divide

Pilas (Spain), Aug. 22 (Reuters): Young Israeli musicians play side by side with Palestinians and Egyptians as a shared language of classical music and love of Beethoven and Mozart overcome religious and political differences.

The youth orchestra led by conductor Daniel Barenboim has an idealistic vision of how harmonious West Asia could be.

At a sleepy village in the southern Spanish region of Andalusia, Barenboim, an Argentine-born Israeli citizen, has assembled 80 talented musicians from Israel and Arab countries, as well as some from Spain, to try to build bridges across the divide that has led to years of bloodshed in West Asia.

It is the fifth year that the workshop, founded by Barenboim and Palestinian writer Edward Said, has been held and the second time it has been based in Andalusia — a symbolic venue because Muslims, Christians and Jews lived together for centuries in Moorish Andalusia before the Christian re-conquest of Spain in 1492.

“In spite of not being political, this is a workshop that shows that when the different peoples of the region unite to create something together, they have an extraordinary quality,” Barenboim said, speaking in an airy room in the former seminary of Pilas. “In that sense, it gives us an advance notice of what West Asia might be.”

Music set an example to peoples of the region because musicians learned early on that they had to re-invent their playing every day, he said.

In the same way, continued Barenboim, speaking in Spanish: “Israel has to re-invent itself, the Palestinian people have to re-invent themselves, each in its own way.”

He acknowledges that music is not going to resolve the West Asian conflict. “But one thing is very clear: studying music is better than studying fundamentalism for both sides,” said Barenboim, 60, a distinguished pianist and music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Deutsche Staatsoper Berlin.

He was speaking several days before a Palestinian suicide bombing in Jerusalem on August 19 killed 20 people and shattered a truce key to a US-backed peace plan.

After two weeks of intensive rehearsals in Pilas, the young musicians involved in the workshop start a European tour.

They move to Menton in France on August 26 and give three concerts in Germany — at Kiel on August 28, Haseldorf on August 29 and Berlin on August 31.

In a first this year, the orchestra will perform in an Arab country, something that has proved politically difficult in the past for a mixed Israeli-Arab ensemble. It will play in Rabat, Morocco, on August 24.

Barenboim and Said were honoured last year with Spain’s highest peace award, the Prince of Asturias’ Concord prize, for their efforts to promote West Asian reconciliation.

Barenboim is no stranger to controversy.

In September last year, he conducted a concert in the West Bank city of Ramallah in the face of criticism by some Israelis.

In 2001, he angered survivors of the Holocaust by conducting a Berlin Staatskapelle concert in Israel featuring a work by Richard Wagner, Adolf Hitler’s favourite composer.

The chance to meet musicians from other cultures, as well as receiving coaching from Barenboim and a team of expert helpers, is valued by all of the young musicians who were chosen for the workshop in auditions held throughout West Asia.

The orchestra includes musicians from Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, according to a spokeswoman.

Matan Porat, a 21-year-old Israeli pianist and composer, said it was the first time he had met Arab musicians.

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