Discussions about peaceful relations between the East and the West or between religions being possible within the international cultural space have already become commonplace. Numerous cultural projects endeavour to communicate the idea that countries located on different sides of the Mediterranean Sea have common roots, therefore a dialogue between various religions may take place. Can music become an international language capable of leading this difficult dialogue toward acceptance and mutual understanding?
Argentine-Israeli conductor Daniel Barenboim and American-Palestinian literary critic and author Edward Said have succeeded in answering the above question, in establishing the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra. The orchestra has united young musicians from Israel, Palestine, and neighbouring Arab countries for the purpose of creating an international dialogue and a common cooperation base. As Maestro Barenboim said himself: “We wanted not just to organize an orchestra, but rather to create a forum where Middle Eastern musicians could cooperate. Our primary goal is to promote universal values. I emphasize that we are a non-political project.”
Young musicians started working on the western classical repertory together, performing music by Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, and Haydn. This was a complicated task, since some project participants had never played with other musicians before, and some had never even heard a live orchestra performance. When people believe in what they do, they can overcome any difficulties, and the West-Eastern Divan has already travelled all over the world with its concerts.
The orchestra participants, including Kurds, Sunnites, Shiites, pinned great hopes on the western classical repertory, because they believed this very music could resolve conflicts between various population groups in their problem region. They believed Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, and Bach were able to give people a drop of comfort in the sea of their everyday troubles. For these young musicians as well as for a part of their audience, their music is of an enormous value and is associated with social progress, political transparency, and democratization (i.e. with everything worth fighting for). The West-Eastern Divan Orchestra has managed to prove that music can overcome political barriers and help people to really hear each other.