Barenboim’s Looking for Palestine

Barenboim’s Looking for Palestine


norman lebrecht

April 19, 2018

The BBC Proms features one concert with Daniel Barenboim’s West-East Diwan Orchestra.

Aside from the Brahms violin concerto and Scriabin’s Poem of Ecstasy, it features a new work by Barenboim’s assistant, the British conductor David Robert Coleman, for soprano and orchestra. The title of the work is Looking for Palestine.

The BBC has strict rules for observing balance in the coverage of international conflicts.

Since the BBC Proms contains no work by an Israeli composer, or anything marking the 70th anniversary of the State of Israel, the Barenboim search for Palestine appears to be in contravention of the BBC Charter.

I feel sure there will be complaints.



  • Elizabeth Owen says:

    Oh for crying out loud. Why make imagined trouble when there is none. For goodness sake give it a rest.

  • B.K. says:

    I expect the BBC’s sense of balance will be better than that of the author of this blog.

  • Hanna Nahan says:

    Well Barnatan and Bronfman are both Jewish, so there’s your balance right there, before we even get to the third letter of the alphabet, you tedious man….

  • Sue says:

    I’d like to go but I’ve got a pressing engagement those nights; a couple of shirts to iron.

  • David Robert Coleman says:

    Dear Mr Lebrecht,

    I have always enjoyed your column, so therefore I am responding to your remarks.

    My work is not political agitprop for Palestinians or against Iraelis. Maestro Barenboim asked me to set to music a text by Najla Said, the daughter of Edward Said, that focuses on her search for identity as an American, Church of England Christian woman with Palestinian and Lebanese roots and many Jewish friends.
    In the piece she returns to Lebanon in 2006 and gets caught up in the Lebanon war which brings her issues of identity to a crisis point.
    This piece was written at the express wish of Barenboim and is not in any way a piece of party politics.
    As a conductor and composer of joint German and Jewish background, I hope this piece will be understood in the context of Barenboim‘s important work at the Barenboim/Said foundation in Berlin, an academy that brings young Arabic, Israeli and German musicians together.
    Sincerely, David Robert Coleman

    • norman lebrecht says:

      Dear Mr Coleman

      Many thanks for your clarifications. I accept without reservation your assurance of the sincerity of the piece, but I must nonetheless raise the question if a work titled Looking for Israel would be played by the WEDO, or would make it into the Proms. And if not, why not?
      This is the 70th anniversary f a country that, for all its faults, has given much to the world, including the formative education of Daniel Barenboim.
      That is cannot be acknowledged either by his orchestra or by the BBC Proms speaks volumes for present political confusions.
      best wishes (and I look forward to hearing the piece)
      Norman Lebrecht

      • Derek says:


        Why not take a longer view of the Proms and compositions.

        A work may be included in the future which is about Israel. It is not necessary to balance EVERY single work with something else!

        We don’t want to reach a situation where if a North Korean piece is played then there must be a South Korean piece etc. etc. Music performance should not work as if it is a trades union negotiation!

        You are giving the impression of being precious or at least pedantic.

        That said, your blog is informative and interesting (most of the time!). Best regards.

        • norman lebrecht says:

          If you’ve ever made a BBC programme you would know how paranoid they are about balance. I once did a feature with Steve Reich, talking in part about Tehillim. The producer referred it to Compliance for guidance as to whether a Palestinian dimension had to be included in the script. They haven’t dared to refer Barenboim, but the piece he has commissioned is unquestionably one-eyed.

          • Hilary says:

            Perhaps a greater imbalance will be yet another commission for Anna Meredith at the Proms.

  • ketzel says:

    Anyone who wants some clarity on this issue should read “Children of the Stone” by Sandy Tolan. It’s about the origin of the West-East Diwan Orchestra. Another clue, very easy, is that the text is by Edward Said’s daughter. I’m sure she has many Jewish friends, possibly even a cute puppy, but that’s irrelevant. There is so much hard-core Palestinian street cred in this new project, that it is indeed extremely unbalanced. Can you imagine if the work were titled “Looking for Zion,” and if the text were by the daughter of some prominent Zionist? Wouldn’t happen, right?

  • Albert Einstein says:

    Let me remind how the Israeli Philarmonic Orchestra, a truly fine ensemble, was accepted (i.e. interrupted) in the most recent Proms to which it was invited. One cannot disguise the fact that English culture and politics jave always been plagued by a certain degree of antisemitism. It has got nothing to do with the disliking of certain aspects of Israeli policies. This is classic old school antisemitism which is still a highly felt under current and subtext of the cultural dialogue 9n the UK. Great artists and true heroes like Barenboim fail to take that into account.

    • Will Duffay says:

      Objection to Israeli cultural organisations being used to soften attitudes towards the persecution of Palestinians is not the same as antisemitism. Lazy, mischevious conflation.

      • Albert Einstein says:

        The ‘persecution’ of Palestinians… There may he a strong disagreement on political stances of the State of Israel but charcterizing it as persecution and the boycot of Israle artists or academics us a thin disguise of antisemitism. Your astonishing ‘autumatic’ comment just proves the point. How shameful that behing the gloss of British culture hide the roots of antisemitism.

      • Ellingtonia says:

        “Persecution of Palestinians”……….these would be the same palestinians that elected hamas (who then abolished elections by murdering most of the opposition and have a propensity for stoning women and throwing gays off buildings) who have it enshrined in their Charter that Israel has no right to exist and that all Jews should be hunted down and killed. I suggest you go back to your day job of working in Jezzas office.

    • John Davies says:

      Most of the people involved in that protest were Jewish. It certainly wasn’t anti-Semitic, but a protest at the way in which Israel uses culture to give a patina of respectibility to its crimes in Palestine.

      • Albert Einstein says:

        All these comments just serve to prove the point. You may have a lovely British accent, Oxbridge upbringing and you are pseudo-cultural. But all this patina of respectability does mot change the simple fact – you are racists and antisemites.

  • Doug says:

    Looking for Palestine? Follow the source of the rocket trails that target Jewish elementary schools, or listen for the sounds of exploding suicide vests. How about the screams of women being stoned to death for the crime of being raped or just listen for chants of “kill all the Jews.” That should get you close.

    • Simon says:

      You wouldn’t be able to hear them over the sound of Israeli sniper fire at unarmed civilians or cement mixers building on their land.

    • David Jeremiah says:

      Why not follow back the trail of the dispossessed out of “Israel”? Or check the data on the phosophorus bombs dropped on civilians in August 2014. Or reverse trace the trajectories of the artillery which leveled apartment buildings burying whole families in Gaza. This will lead to Palestine.

  • Raymond Ali says:

    I take it Palestine is equally coveted by Jews and Arabs? Ergo … … Balance?

  • Alexander Platt says:

    David Coleman is a brilliant musician, a gifted composer and conductor, a wonderful person, and an old friend. Being partly of German-Jewish heritage, I am sure that he is approaching this project with his usual talent and sensitivity, and congratulate him on this opportunity.

  • Njh says:

    I agree there should be balance. To achieve that Zionists will need to remain quiet for the next 70 years until Palestinians’ have caught up. Then we can do the tit for tat thing.

  • Saxon Broken says:

    Isn’t Palestine a place. At the moment it seems to be shared rather unhappily between Israel and the Palestinian arabs.

  • Roger Thomas says:

    70 years of expropriation followed by colonial rule. Israel must survive but it must also live up to its ostensible ideals.

  • Chris Bartram says:

    The West-East Divan Orchestra is doing a massively important job of providing an artistic and human space where people across a terrible divide can come together in (musical) dialogue. Such conversations must form a part of any long term solution to the political disaster. As such, the orchestra has surely earned the right to present a new piece and have it considered within the context of its work. How about we listen to the piece and try to understand what it is saying, before sounding off on our individual soap boxes…

  • Keithy says:

    The music is pure shite and bears no resemblance to any political conflict.

  • michael says:

    Just from RAH after the concert where this work was performed.
    Sorry, not much of a music there, but Palestinian flag was displayed by
    activist patrons. Sad!

  • paul leach says:

    The biased argument makers quarreling on this blog refuse to be reconciled. Isn’t that what the East West Divan was created to rise above?

    The concert was great- a freebee overture not scheduled in the programme, fantastic concerto performance, exhilerating Poem d’Extace, and elegiac Nimrod encore.

    Can anybody tell me where to access the Looking for Palestine Libretto? I didn’t get a programme.