ALBUM TITLE: West-Eastern Divan Orchestra
WORKS: The Geneva Concert; Lessons in Harmony; In Conversation – Daniel Barenboim and Edward Said
PERFORMER: West-Eastern Divan Orchestra/ Daniel Barenboim
CATALOGUE NO: 2564 62190-5
This well thought-out packaging of concert, documentary and interview should be one for anyone’s archive, even if the performances here were less fine than they are. Together with mutual friends Edward Said and Yo-Yo Ma, Daniel Barenboim brought together young Jewish, Muslim and Christian musicians from the Middle East to share their experiences for the first time in Weimar during the summer of 1999.
The orchestra took its name from the city’s guiding spirit, Goethe, and his remarkable collection of orientally-inspired poems, the West-Eastern Divan. As the concise accompanying documentary records, the ensuing journey has not been a simple, heart-warming experience. One player at the Seville gathering of 2002 talks of a post-9/11 pain which he thinks might eventually become unbearable; a Ukrainian Jew only has to mention his Israeli national service, and the Palestinian player with him asks for the filming to be stopped.
Still, here they still are in 2004, dripping with sweat through a steamy August evening in Geneva as they play their hearts out in Barenboim’s Tchaikovsky Five – a dark and mobile view, running continuously and at a white heat which sometimes means smudged phrasing. Verdi’s Force of Destiny overture raises temperatures still further, very much from the same rearing-thoroughbred stable.
The DVD also includes a long ‘conversation’ between Barenboim and the late Said. Humane, humble Barenboim makes a more convincing philosopher than his colleague, who sometimes comes across as the stereotype of the self-regarding American academic. On CD, the performances, joined by a Sibelius Valse Triste of escalating anguish, sound wonderful. As Elgar said of his Violin Concerto, ‘it’s awfully emotional – too emotional! But I love it’. You should, too.