Daniel Barenboim admits West-East Diwan’s failure

Daniel Barenboim admits West-East Diwan’s failure


norman lebrecht

October 23, 2019

Twenty years after he co-founded with Edward Said an orchestra of young Arabs and Israelis, Daniel Barenboim has spoken openly about the Diwan as a dream that has, so far, failed.

In a sombre 20th anniversary interview with the German press agency Barenboim said: ‘The orchestra exists (but not as) an orchestra for peace… We can not do that.

‘Today we cannot play in most Arab countries or in Israel…’

He takes credit for the training and experience the orchestra has given to many young musicians but is frustrated by the lack of political progress.’

However: ‘If both sides attack us, we must be doing something right. I would be worried if that did not happen.’

Read on here.


  • Paul Dawson says:

    Sorry to read this. It was a wonderful initiative. However, we must not overlook what he has achieved for the members of his orchestra.

  • Andy says:

    Well, fair play to him to trying, and for doing something that is definitely positive. I heard the orchestra play at the proms, with Martha Argerich, this year, and it was fantastic (as was she, unsurprisingly).

  • sam says:

    Why the hell *would* it work?

    He’s bringing a European cultural product, playing European music, to the Middle East, and expects a miracle to happen.

    The Berlin Philharmonic playing Beethoven’s Ninth perfectly under Furtwangler didn’t do much good for Judeo-Teutonic relationships in Germany, and Barenboim expects a student orchestra learning to play Eine Kleine Nachtmusik to improve Judeo-Muslim relationships on the West Bank?

    It’s a very good student orchestra. Nothing more. Nor nothing less.

  • Jack says:

    Thank you for trying, Daniel. Twenty years represents a deep commitment that few others would have made.

  • Karl says:

    I heard them play in Boston a few years ago. They play great. I don’t think anything is going to solve the political problems in that area of the world.

  • Gustavo says:

    Solti’s “World Orchestra for Peace” also seems to have suffered.

    Though the vision hasn’t changed.

    More important than ever to stand together!


    • Mark says:

      Well, if someone had a very stupid idea to make Putin’s buddy Gergiev one of WOP’s conductors of choice then why are we surprised that the idea of promoting peace with such orchestras is failing. So far it seems that only the Russians have found the perfect way to use youth orchestras as a very effective political tool. CIS Youth Orchestra is promoting Russian supremacy in former Soviet republics (no wonder Georgia opted out), Baltic Youth Orchestra is drumming up good publicity for Nordstream Project which prepared the right stage for Russia to attack Ukraine, or Sino-Russian Youth Orchestra which Gergiev helped to set up just at the time when Russia was trying to get support from China after starting occupation of Crimea.

      • Anon says:

        U ok Mark? How old r u? 10?
        By the way, it was Solti’s widow herself you chose Gergiev, back in the 90s if I remember correctly

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      That was difficult when Palestinians were blowing up 747s at airports, having hijacked passengers and crew and letting them escape by inches with their lives. The image of a dead pilot being thrown out of the cockpit of a 747 onto the tarmac in yet another of their terrorist attacks is still fresh in my mind.

  • Jon H says:

    For all the groups out there that have non-musical objectives, if it sounds good – keep on playing. Don’t take the quality of the performance for granted. We can still hear Beethoven (Mahler, etc.) in a way we have not heard before.

  • Giovanni Orsini says:

    ‘Today we canot play in most Arab countries or in Israel…’

    No, Danny, it is YOU who cannot play in most Arab countries or in Israel.

    • Bruce says:

      A comment and a question.

      • The word “we” means “others and myself.”
      • Would countries that bar him from performing, presumably for his political views, be likely to allow the ensemble that he co-founded specifically to advance those political views? Even with a different conductor, the message would be the same.

  • Eyal Braun says:

    Practically, this orchestra is a fantastic group, in the highest possible level. It provides the Israel PO training for many of it’s future players- many of the players of the current IPO started at the Divan. No wonder that the standards of the IPO raised so much during the last decade. It is much to Mehta’s credit, but also to Barenboim as leader and mentor for so many gifted young players who played in the Divan. I realize this was not Barenboim’s main aim in founding the orchestra…

  • Esther Cavett says:

    DB has been saying this in interviews for years, that it’s NOT an orchestra for peace. Maybe this conversation was a bit more sombre than at other times ?

  • Enquiring Mind says:

    Why can’t they play in Israel?

  • Edgar Self says:

    Twenty years is an entire generation of training young players, if only as an academy for other orchestras, although evidently it has been more than that.

    Would be interesting to know the proportion of Arab and Israeli numbers. I’ll see what I can find on that. And will it continue nevertheless?

    Once when the Divan were here I chatted with their principal oboe, a short round-faced amiable Egyptian who has since married an American. Good results come unbidden, sometimes unrecognized, but not for lack of trying. Barenboim and his great late friend Edward Said deserve credit their idealism and for the grandeur of the conception that is often the only thing that matters.

    I think too of Barenboim crouched in the trunk of a diplometic car taking him to play a recital on the only grand piano in Palestine, and trying to exercise the honorary citizenship awarded him by both factions.

  • Petros Linardos says:

    Barenboim is now 77. Not that old by conductor standards, but old enough to plan for his legacy. What do we know? Is Barenboim the only conductor working with this remarkable orchestra?

  • ian says:

    your all mis informed the orchestra is payed for by spanish tax payers with spanish players whos names are never published in the programmes this orchestra is not very popular in southern spain

  • Barry Guerrero says:

    Say what you will about Barenboim, the man has guts.

  • Mary Zoeter says:

    I have the greatest respect for Daniel Barenboim and the last Edward Said. Their attempts to bring about reconciliation were valiant.

  • Mary Zoeter says:

    I should have said the “late” Edward Said, not the “last”.

  • George says:

    Nowhere in the interview can I read that he says it is a failure.
    He just says they cannot perform in certain countries but that they‘ve had also many successes and got careers started. I find the headline of this article misleading.

  • Monsoon says:

    Music is not going to save the world. It certainly enlightens our lives, but it isn’t going to solve geopolitical struggles or social sector issues.

  • Patrick Gillot says:

    What about he does music instead of politics and stop screaming to everybody?

  • Kay Langford says:

    I heard them at the Proms. They were brilliant.
    Daniel Barenboim has done a great job. He has nothing to be ashamed of.

  • Piano lover says:

    The thing I noticed from that orchestra,apart from being of an excellent level, is the smile and happiness on the faces of the players.
    Look at other orchestra’s members when they play…it looks as if they were-
    -comming from a funeral
    -having received their latest tax sheet.
    The choice is yours!