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In 1999, conductor and pianist Daniel Barenboim and his dear friend, the late Palestinian literary scholar Edward Said, founded an extraordinary ensemble: the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, a project that would bring together musicians from Israel, the Palestinian territories and other countries across the Middle East like Syria, Egypt, Algeria, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey and Iran.
Their idea was that music would provide a forum for diverse voices to engage with each other in within the nonpolitical platform of music. (Barenboim recently asserted to WQXR that the Divan is "the only space for dialogue in the Middle East now, in any field.") Just as in musical counterpoint, Barenboim and Said believed, the musicians would be able to hear each other simultaneously – not cancelling each other out, but instead enhancing each other.
Since its founding, the orchestra has gone from being a grand experiment to an internationally renowned ensemble. They've played the full cycle of Beethoven cycles from Buenos Aires to China to London and beyond — and this week, they've brought that project to Carnegie Hall. The perfect conclusion? Beethoven's epic Ninth Symphony, paired with the sprightly and trim Second Symphony.
This performance comes days after members of the Divan and Daniel Barenboim gave an intimate performance of Mendelssohn, Bartok, Boulez and a new work by one of the Divan's alumni, clarinetist and composer Kinan Azmeh, in a concert co-presented by NPR Music, WQXR and (Le) Poisson Rouge. Side by side, these performances offer a chance to hear two sides of this very multi-faceted ensemble.