Knowledge Is the Beginning

Daniel Barenboim and the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra Conductor and pianist Daniel Barenboim believes that “a life without music is impoverished.” In the early 1990s, a chance meeting between Barenboim and the late Palestinian-born writer and Columbia University professor Edward Said resulted in a unique friendship that had both political and musical repercussions. Their meeting led to Barenboim’s first concert in the West Bank and to the creation of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, which involved talented musicians between the ages of 14 and 25 from Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Tunisia. Based on the notion that “music is the language of peace,” Barenboim and Said brought the orchestra to perform in Weimar on the 250th anniversary of the birth of Goethe. Also participating in this bold experiment in 1999 was Yo-Yo Ma. Director Paul Smaczny has followed the orchestra, which has grown to 80 Arab and Israeli musicians, since its inception. The film, an unusual hybrid of a world-class concert movie and a documentary about artistic diplomacy, chronicles all five summer workshops in Weimar and Seville; Barenboim’s visit to Ramallah and Jerusalem in May 2004, during which he received the prestigious Wolf Prize at the Knesset; as well as a celebrated concert in Geneva and highlights of the 2005 European Tour. The most moving and indelible scenes are of the students playing together. Said—who felt that the orchestra was one of the most important things he had done in his life—eloquently advocates for young Israelis and Arabs to gain greater mutual understanding, quietly stating, “Ignorance is not a strategy for sustainable survival.”
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