Criticising Daniel Barenboim’s East West Diwan orchestra of young Arab and Israeli players is not something many reviewers are prepared to do. The Diwan brings together musicians from either side of the Middle East divide and the playing is, when I have heard it, of a very high youth-orchestra standard. These young artists are playing for peace on earth and goodwill for all mankind, and reviewers treat them as if they were Mother Teresa.
So praise be to Fiona Maddocks who, in today’s Observer, detects a flaw in the enterprise that runs deeper than ‘rough ensemble and problems with tuning’. You can read her whole review here, but allow me to quote the salient passage:
It has been reported that some Muslim players in the orchestra were observing Ramadan by fasting until nightfall. It is interesting to note, in turn, that none of the Jewish players were observing the Sabbath. I have read no comment on this discrepancy. In a conflict that is avowedly faith-based, does one faith matter more than another?
She has a point, and a very strong one. All creeds are respected in the orchestra’s mission statement, but where some Moslem players maintain their observances and their pride in an ethical heritage, none of the Jewish Israelis, least of all their secular conductor, appears to show more than liberal disdain for the archaic rules of a discarded faith culture.
This is a serious shortcoming. Religious faith of all degrees, from mild affinity to wild fanaticism, lies at the heart of the Middle East conflict. If the Diwan does not represent all forms of faith, its role in the peace dialogue cannot be more than an ephemeral gesture.