Inside the surreal world of Barenboim’s West-East Divan Orchestra

Inside the surreal world of Barenboim’s West-East Divan Orchestra


norman lebrecht

September 17, 2016

Daniela Shemer, an Israeli cellist living in Frankfurt, is a player in the orchestra which is drawn from several sides of the blood-stained Mideast kaleidoscope.

In the new issue of her monthly online magazine, Mount Dela, Daniela shares her experiences in the ensemble.


Daniela Shemer 2013




Not all discussions are political. The WEDO works in a very particular format – it began as a youth orchestra but matured together with its musicians. Musically speaking, it grew into a professional orchestra. This positive development keeps raising questions regarding the future of the entire project. Barenboim often opens these for discussion: how do we accept new and younger musicians without sacrificing the level we have achieved? How do we make it possible for those of us who are members in other orchestras to keep participating in the Divan’s projects? These questions among others, address logistic as well as ideological issues to which various solutions were suggested over the years.

When it comes to discussing, be it on political, social or musical topics – the talks do not end with the official discussions which are timed into our schedules. This is only where they begin. In fact, the most interesting talks happen after official meetings and in between – while eating, drinking, smoking and sight-seeing. That is when the true Barenboim-Said vision comes to life: Arabs and Israelis exchange ideas, share stories, collaborate and create brave friendships.

One of the best communal inventions of the WEDO is a ceremony which we conduct every time we go on a charter flight. I do not know how old this tradition is or how it began, but every time it happens I seriously think of world peace. Right after take-off, while the flight attendant begins the flight safety demonstration, we begin our own little ritual. It includes taking off one shoe and holding on to its laces from the plane’s ceiling (demonstrating the use of an oxygen mask); creating as much noise as possible with the metal buckle of the security belt (practicing correct operation); and finally, a rather sophisticated hand-choreography (assisting the flight attendant with the marking of the plain’s doors). If you ever wanted to see Arabs and Israelis cooperate perfectly in tune – you would have to join one of the WEDO’s private flights.

Read on here.

barenboim w-e diwan berlin


  • Sylvain says:

    The full article (which is linked) is very informative and passionate, so thank you Daniela for sharing this first-hand account about the WEDO.
    As Norman focused on the “in-flight enhanced security announcements” and since the writer herself seem to wonder where do they originate from, I can only say that such identical “festive behavior” was already tooking place during all the flights of the late 90’s/early 00’s tours of the Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester.
    On of my favorites moments would be when the flight attendant draw the attention to the printed “security measures leaflet” : everybody would just wave frantically and noisily the plasticized sheet in the air, in a “yes-I-read-it fashion” ; the rest of the “show” with belt-buckles, etc was exactly as described – I think that this tradition spread and I am not surprised to hear it’s still vivid today. Les voyages forment la jeunesse, as they say…

  • Hilary says:

    “Eating, drinking, ****SMOKING***, and sight-seeing”
    Mmmm….not sure about that.

    • CounterTenor says:

      With all the positive aspects of the players’ lives together, perhaps they are allowed the odd vice – much as I’m against smoking.

    • MS says:

      Ooh, smoking.


    • Max Grimm says:

      What’s not to be sure about? She says that “In fact, the most interesting talks happen after official meetings and in between – while eating, drinking, smoking and sight-seeing.”
      While I don’t smoke, I do know that smokers may converse while indulging in their nicotine-habit.

    • Petros Linardos says:

      I am a big time antismoker, but realize there are countries were smoking is socially acceptable and smoking bans are largely ignored.

  • Dan P. says:

    I would think that the best way to keep the tradition going without compromising the playing level of THIS orchestra, is to create a new WEDO every few years with young players who can grow together the same way. At least a small portion of the world would be better off.

  • Bill says:

    diVan, not diWan. I think we can take the orchestra’s host name as definitive in this matter:

  • Francisco says:

    The flight ritual is actually a GMJO (Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester) tradition… for years and years and years.

  • David S L says:

    Wonderful article. Warm, passionate and insightful. I have never understood why D B has not had the orchestra play in Israel. D.

    • Max Grimm says:

      It is my understanding that in the past, proposed concerts in Israel have fallen through due (in part) to the government’s red tape and objections from Palestinian and Israeli groups.