The phrase ‘in concert’ refers not just to musicians performing a work, but any group of people acting together with a single aim. The definition is pertinent in the case of the West-Eastern Divan musicians, the youth orchestra formed in 1998 by the Argentine-born (and Jewish) conductor Daniel Barenboim and the late Palestinian historian Edward Said. Their aim in creating a first-class orchestra comprising Israeli and Palestinian youth was simple: to use music as the opportunity in which these historical enemies could play and listen to each other. Barenboim is too astute to say that this endeavour will result in peace, but it will, he says in a short speech at the end of Live in Ramallah, bring about the ‘understanding, patience and the curiosity to listen to the narrative of the other’.
The recording of this album in the West Bank town of Ramallah required statesperson-like powers. The only way that the musicians could enter the closed-off town was on diplomatic passports issued by the Spanish Government. In Israel, Barenboim was denounced as a self-hating Jew. But the orchestra played, and its programme is iconic: the emotional warmth of Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante; Beethoven’s Fifth, with its play between light and dark timbres; and finally, the dignity of Elgar’s Nimrod variation. The Divan Orchestra brings a finely tuned understanding to an evening that represents a historic occasion. Just one niggle: why not translate the sleevenotes into Arabic and Hebrew as well as the four main European languages? That way, even more Middle Easterners might listen and – who knows? – act in concert for peace.Louise Gray