The most depressing music book I have ever reviewed

The most depressing music book I have ever reviewed


norman lebrecht

October 24, 2015

I have just reviewed the book below this weekend for the JC. The book has completely changed my attitude towards western efforts to bring music to the West Bank. I am aware that many young musicians go to Palestine with the highest of intentions.

But from Sandy Tolan’s account, it appears their ideals are cleverly converted into politics.

tolan children of the stone


From the review:

A London orchestral violinist I know spends her summer leave working with cancer kids in Africa. A French bassoonist takes a 100-kilometre run in support of an educational mission. An Australian violinist volunteers for Médecin sans Frontières. Few occupations in my experience are as caring, as giving of time and effort in good causes, as classical musicians.

Over the years I have seen dozens of European and American musicians backpack off to Ramallah with the aim of training Palestinian youngsters to play in orchestras. Although many return with a restricted view of the situation, I have always assumed that their civilising presence did some good. Reading Sandy Tolan’s one-eyed, unquestioning, hopelessly sentimental narrative of ‘the power of music in a hard land’, I am forced to reconsider every aspect of that assumption.

Read the full review here.



  • John Borstlap says:

    This also reflects badly upon Barenboim’s Divan orchestra.

    • Petros LInardos says:


    • Eddie Mars says:

      Yes, that’s very true. Consider the reputation of Daniel Barenboim (Israeli citizen, top-ranked international conductor of the Divan Orchestra, Bayreuth, the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, the Paris Opera, La Scala Milan…)…

      …against ‘Sandy Tolan’ (musical achievements unlisted on his website..although he lists his interests as promoting the interests of “far-right survivalists..)

      • John Borstlap says:


        Obviously, people would – after taking notice of this story – suddenly begin to suspect the possible opposite effects of what DB apparantly attempts to represent: a symbol of harmony across division lines.

  • Gonout Backson says:

    A genius is running the Palestinian PR. It’s really unfair his/her individual/collective name shall probably never be known.

  • CDH says:

    There are other points of view about this book:

    I will read it myself and see.

  • esfir ross says:

    Ramzi through stone when he was 8 year old at the picture. And N. Lebrecht pro-zionist die-hard smears everything what positive at Palestine.

    • Dave T says:

      The issue is not what the man did when he was eight years old. It is what he is doing with his opportunity today. Have you read the review? He is using it to drive Arabs and Israelis further apart.

  • Elizabeth says:

    Civilizing?! Really? What the hell century are we in? This neo-colonial discourse needs to stop.

  • MacroV says:

    It’s hardly unusual that someone might use music to further a political agenda – this blog frequently discusses the political involvement of a number of artists, including Gergiev, Netrebko, Bashment, Barenboim, Dudamel, Montero, etc.. And isn’t the Israel Philharmonic, in addition to being a fine orchestra, a major propaganda tool for the state of Israel, touring the world to rally support from the Jewish diaspora? (Certainly the protestors whom it often attracts think so).

    There is nothing contradictory about Ramzi being a member of the Divan orchestra and still wanting Israel out of the Bank. If he’s at least on friendly terms with the Israelis in the orchestra, that’s a start.

    As for the point that for every ten Palestinians killed by the Israelis, seven are executed by Palestinians (including Ramzi’s father and brother), what of it? I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a similar statistic with the IRA during the British occupation of Northern Ireland. The locals hate the occupiers and are also victims of their own gangster state.

    • V.Lind says:

      According to one of the reviews I read, Ramzi’s father was assassinated for collaborating with the Israelis. So there may be some history in this family of trying to see both sides, which does not preclude objecting to occupation and throwing stones in the heat of the Intifada, as a child. On the whole, it looks as if what he has done, and is doing, is encouraging young people to wider view. I wish there were a few wider ones at the top of this page.

  • Sardis says:

    Collaboration; always a difficult point. Given that positions are so entranched on both sides the inability to consider that the other side might have some validity is going to be the more likely response. Even in music one has to move beyond the prejudices and Norman’s position is correct here.

    • V.Lind says:

      Objecting to your country being occupied, and your people being prevented from working because of a security wall, and your land being trampled because of same wall, and your people generally being dismissed as of no account, is not “prejudice.” Your comment, like most of Mr. Lebrecht’s on this subject, operates on the ludicrous assumption that Israel can do no wrong. And that the position of no Palestinian is of any consequence. The other side’s positions DO have validity — something both sides need to remember.

      • James says:

        That is not what Norman says at all. For that matter – though I would take issue with quite a lot of what you say – neither is what Israelis say.

        BTW if the Palestinians had in good faith accepted any of the at-least-four settlements they have been offered and got on with their lives this situation wouldn’t persist.

        • CDH says:

          I’d be careful about using the word “settlements” in this conversation.

        • Max Grimm says:

          Given the deeply entrenched sentiments on both sides and the extent to which the waters have been muddied over time, the only way “this situation wouldn’t persist” is if you moved everybody from Side A to an island in the Atlantic, everybody from Side B to an island in the Pacific and declared the whole of present-day Israel and Palestine forbidden territory to any and every person.

      • Alvaro says:


    • Ellingtonia says:

      Objecting to your country being bombarded by missiles fired from the side of schools and hospitals to invite a response to gain PR (clear evidence of this is available and the UN have stated that it is the case) is not the action of reasonable people. Moreover, HAMAS have it enshrined in their charter that Israel has no right to exist and that all Jews must be killed………an attitude hardly likely to endear them to the Israelis. After the last election in Palestine the Hamas supporters rounded up defeated opposition members and threw them off buildings………..and guess what, no subsequent elections.
      Given the indiscriminate killing of Israelis at the moment through knife attacks and various other methods it os no wonder that they come down hard on the Hamas supporters.
      The Palestinians have received millions of dollars in aid but there is little evidence of it being spent on aid projects for the people. As with Arafat the money is going to support the buying of arms for Hamas and subsidising the corrupt lifestyles of their leaders.
      You cannot negotiate with an opponent who simply says “you have no right to exist”

  • Sandy Tolan says:

    To the Editor of the Jewish Chronicle,

    Congratulations to Norman Lebrecht for writing the only negative published review of my book, Children of the Stone, to date. I normally don’t respond to reviews but given his one-sidedness and inaccuracies, I feel compelled to correct the record.

    First, I would like to point out that reviewers and musicians alike have taken a decidedly different view than Mr. Lebrecht. He neglects to mention that other respected musicians and historians have praised Children of the Stone. Yo-Yo Ma, for example, writes on the cover of the book that it “reflects one individual’s belief in the power of music and culture to transform lives. Congratulations to Sandy Tolan for bringing us the story of Ramzi Hussein Aburedwan, his philosophy and his personal mission to make a difference. His story is proof of the famous words of Margaret Mead – ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.'” Also, the esteemed Israeli journalist and historian Tom Segev, far from the “hopelessly sentimental” writer Mr. Lebrecht accuses me of being, writes that Children of the Stone “is alive with compassion, hope and great inspiration. It is not necessary to believe in music’s power to defeat evil in order to be enchanted by this wonderful story.” The Journal of Music calls my book “magisterial” and its story “inspiring.” Newsweek Europe calls it “a symphony of international locations, big ideas and human dramas” and “a deeply moving parable of struggle and mastery–over an instrument, over painful injustice and ultimately over self.” And just recently, Booklist put “Children of the Stone” on its Top Ten list for books on the arts for 2015.

    In his review Mr. Lebrecht falsely claims that it is hard from my narrative to decipher the sources of violence against Ramzi Aburedwan’s family, when it is immensely clear in the narrative. Nor as he claims was it necessary to search the book’s notes to find a discussion on Palestinian-on-Palestinian violence during the first intifada, as it is clearly mentioned on pages 48 and 67 of the book.

    Mr. Lebrecht writes of my alleged “inability to ask a critical question.” In fact the book is replete with such questions, including of Ramzi himself and, more importantly, of the reality of a military occupation in which Ramzi’s music students — children — are forced to live under every day. Perhaps these are questions that make Mr. Lebrecht uncomfortable; whatever the reason, he fails to mention that reality, which courses through my narrative, in his review. It is apparent he has never set foot in the West Bank nor ever spoken with a Palestinian about the experience of a military occupation that is now nearly half a century old.

    [redacted: untrue]


    Sandy Tolan