West Eastern Divan Orchestra: Tenth Anniversary Tour

On July 23rd, the members of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra will convene in Pilas, its Andalusian home base, for this year’s workshop, rehearsing for the concert tour and exchanging views and experiences of life from both sides of the conflict divide in the Middle East. This year marks the orchestra’s tenth anniversary, the first workshop having taken place in the summer of 1999 with its co-founders Daniel Barenboim and Edward Said as well as soloist Yo-Yo Ma, who worked with the young musicians in addition to playing the Schumann Cello Concerto with the orchestra. Since its establishment, the orchestra has made great progress in musical and interpersonal development. Its first performances were in Weimar; in recent years it has performed at the BBC Proms, in Carnegie Hall, the General Assembly Hall of the United Nations, Vienna’s Musikverein, and the Berlin Philharmonie. In 2005, the orchestra realized the impossible: a concert with Israelis, Palestinians, and other Arab musicians in the Palestinian territory of Ramallah. Every year, the workshop is visited by guest lecturers, historians, and prominent figures from the Middle East, who lead discussions with the young musicians from Israel, Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Iran, and Spain. 

This year’s tour brings the orchestra to Seville, Madrid, Geneva, the Salzburg Festival, the BBC Proms in London, and Bayreuth, following an invitation by the city’s Gesellschaft der Freunde [friends society] to give a concert under the patronage of Wolfgang Wagner. After performing the first act of Die Walküre last year with the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, singers Waltraud Meier and Simon O’Neill return this summer, along with Jon Tomlinson and Peter Mattei, to perform a concert version of Beethoven’s Fidelio with a narrative text written by Edward Said to replace the lengthy spoken dialogues from the original score. This year’s symphonic program features Liszt and Wagner in the first half—Les Préludes and the Vorspiel and Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde—and Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique in the second.

Chamber music figures just as importantly as symphonic and operatic repertoire in this season’s tour and ranges from Mendelssohn to Boulez. After its great success there in 2007, members of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra again present a long day of chamber music at the Salzburg Festival. An all-Boulez program will be offered on August 16th at 3:00 in the Mozarteum and features Guy Braunstein, Israeli concertmaster of the Berlin Philharmonic, Egyptian cellist Hassan Moataz of the Qatar Symphony Orchestra, and singer Hillary Summers. A second chamber music concert follows on its heels at 7:30 PM, with Berg’s Kammerkonzert for piano, violin, and thirteen winds (featuring Jordanian pianist Karim Said and Barenboim’s violinist son Michael), Mendelssohn’s Octet, and Schönberg’s Kammersymphonie No. 1, op. 9. Shorter versions of both programs will be repeated in Royal Albert Hall on August 21st and 22nd.


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