"If conflicts are one day to be solved," says the Israeli conductor Daniel Barenboim, "it will only be by contact between the warring parties." The West-Eastern Divan Orchestra is living proof that this is a viable goal and that music can provide the ideal environment for its attainment. In 1998, Barenboim and his friend, the late Palestinian writer and scholar Edward Said, founded a workshop for young Israeli and Arab musicians; its aim was to foster the participants' musical development and to bridge national, cultural and political differences through dialogue, communal living and shared music-making. Named after a collection of poems by Goethe, the German writer and statesman, the workshop was inaugurated at his birthplace, Weimar, in 1999, and now meets every summer in Andalusia for several weeks of intensive work, joined by a sizeable number of local musicians. The group has performed in Western Europe, the Americas, Morocco, and most recently in Ramallah.
This debut CD, recorded live, proves that it can bear comparison with veteran orchestras, even in familiar repertory staples. Combining technical polish and security, tonal beauty and transparency with youthful expressiveness, passion and exuberance, the players bring out Tchaikovsky's ardent romanticism, Verdi's dramatic somberness, Sibelius' spooky mystery. Much of the credit must go to Barenboim for melding this motley crew into a musically and interpersonally unified group and for inspiring such a fine, concentrated performance through his leadership, personality and commitment. The recording includes a DVD of the concert, the workshop, and a conversation between Said and Barenboim. --Edith Eisler