In 2020, Quintet became the Principal Partner of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra. During the summer workshop and concerts this year, Quintet’s CEO, Jakob Stott, and Head of Client Experience, Tess McLeod, spent time with Maestro Daniel Barenboim, and the members of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra. They listened to the orchestra rehearse and perform in concerts, engaged in dialogue with the musicians and explored ways in which Quintet has been inspired by the work of the orchestra and its conductor. A soon-to-be-released film captures the encounters of this extraordinary partnership.

So, what can one learn from this unique project; why is the work of the orchestra and its outstanding conductor, Maestro Barenboim, so fascinating?

Pianist and conductor, Daniel Barenboim, is one of the greatest artists of our time. He gave his international debut as a pianist at the age of ten and since then has achieved the highest distinction as a performer on the world’s leading stages. Together with his late friend and Palestinian literary scholar, Edward W. Said, he co-founded the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra in 1999; bringing together young musicians from Israel, Palestine, and other Arab countries. The United Nations named Daniel Barenboim Messenger of Peace in 2007 and recognised the orchestra as a Global Advocate for Cultural Understanding in 2016. Maestro Barenboim has played with and conducted every major orchestra in the world. Leading positions as conductor took him to the Orchestre de Paris, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Bayreuth Festival, Teatro alla Scala in Milan and, since 1992 until today, the Staatsoper unter den Linden in Berlin. His work as musician and humanitarian has been recognised with an array of prestigious awards and honours.

In the book “The Sound of Utopia”, Maestro Barenboim expands on the connections between music and life and implications for the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra:

“One of my most important goals has always been to make music an essential part of the life of society. I firmly believe in music’s greater significance and its ability to shape us as human beings – to influence who we are and how we act. Edward W. Said shared this conviction and it was in this spirit that we founded the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra in 1999. In our workshops and seminars, our primary objective has been to learn to listen to each other – both as musicians and as human beings. Learning to really listen to someone else sensitizes us to better appreciate ourselves and the world in which we live.

‘To make music, you have to listen. You have to listen [to] what the other one is doing, but you also have to listen [to] what you are doing and how it affects the other – this is the best school of human relations’

Daniel Barenboim
Photo credit: Monika Rittershaus

Scientific studies, such as the one conducted by Antonio Damasio, have shown that the brain and both cerebral and emotional intelligence benefit significantly from contact with music. Our lives are enriched because in the best-case scenario music furthers development of mankind’s most important qualities in a collective context.

The musicians of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra have learnt to make music individually as part of a collective organism. Through this learning process they have succeeded in overcoming ostensible divisions. For music has convinced them that listening to other voices – voices that comment, voices the provide counterpart – is imperative. In music, every voice has a responsibility to the other. Music can teach us about life.

But music is not something abstract and self sufficient. It must be complemented by a broad and extensive education in the liberal arts. The associations required for the genuine experience of music must also be inspired by history, politics, literature or painting. True artistry means thinking in and with the music.

Music cannot tear down physical or even mental walls. But music can show us that the fellow musician sharing a music-stand with me is in fact much closer to me than I may think he is. That he may have similar passions, similar joys, similar pains. Recognising this leads to understanding for each other. And when people make music together, they feel this understanding.

My work with the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra is, therefore, an attempt to strengthen this understanding for one another, even when two people face each other from standpoints so apparently irreconcilable as Israelis and Palestinians. We work together towards understanding and acceptance – and not just towards tolerance...

That was our mission in founding the Orchestra: to convince people that... there was a human solution for our region. To achieve this human solution, our only hope is to make people curious about each other. To awaken in them a curiosity that makes them want to understand each other...

The orchestra has many admirers worldwide. But the governments in question want nothing to do with our project. At this point in time, unfortunately, we also have little grounds for hoping that things will change in the near future. Nevertheless, we carry on because we believe it is absolutely crucial to do so. That is my and our contribution to a situation which, in my view, is quite tragic. Despite all the tragedy and hopelessness surrounding the project, I find it overwhelmingly beautiful that there are young people out there who want to be part of our Orchestra...

It has been our experience that young people above all, both in Israel, Palestine and the other Arab countries, are striving more and more for openness and for human... solutions. They are tired of the endless negotiations and political stalemate. They too, dream – and in their utopias peace, freedom and an individually shaped communal life prevail. 

Playing music together is a way in which the young musicians can live out, to an extent, this utopia. It is the “sound of utopia” that you can hear ringing everyday in the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra.” 

by Daniel Barenboim
Abridged and edited from the book “The Sound of Utopia”

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