The BBC will never be a thing of perfection, and will never satisfy all its critics all of the time, but it brings its viewers and listeners some truly great events. One of these, every Summer without fail, is the Proms. And yesterday evening was the turn of a quite miraculous orchestra, the West-Eastern Divan, the creation of Daniel Barenboim and the late Edward Said.
This orchestra brings together young musicians from across the Middle East: Israeli, Palestinian, Egyptian, Lebanese, Jordanian, and, yes, Iranian. The players do not shy away from expressing their views: discussions are passionate, yet civilised. The whole idea of the project is to promote understanding. And along the way, there is some excellent music making: yesterday’s performance of Hector Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique was brilliantly executed and rapturously received.
Among the subjects that are often considered “difficult” in the Middle East – especially for followers of Judaism – is that of Richard Wagner, a hugely influential composer and noted Anti-Semite, loved by the Nazis. Wagner was effectively barred from Israel; attempts to introduce his music were routinely met with audiences walking out of auditoria. Barenboim has put Wagner firmly in the repertoire of the West-Eastern Divan: his music opened yesterday’s concert.
Tonight the orchestra are again on stage at the Royal Albert Hall: they are giving a performance of Beethoven’s only opera Fidelio. I’m not a great opera lover, but will be looking in, as will many others. This orchestra is something to be applauded and encouraged, and its continued presence and success is down to the one founder still standing: Daniel Barenboim, a great musician, a great conductor, and a great humanitarian.
A big man.