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The Btrotherhood of the Arts

New York
Isaac Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall
01/30/2013 -  Jaunuary 31*, February 1, 2, 2013
Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphony Nr. 4 in B-flat Major, Opus 60 – Symphony Nr. 3 in E-flat Major (“Eroica”), Opus 55

West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, Daniel Barenboim (Co-founder, Musical Director, Conductor)

D. Barenboim, West-Eastern Divan Orchestra (© WEDO)

The only political aspect of the West-Eastern Divan’s work is the conviction that there will never be a military solution to the Middle East conflict, and that the fates of Israelis and Palestinians are inextricably linked.” (From Program Notes, West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, Carnegie Hall)

In his seven decades, Argentine-born Daniel Barenboim is a literal iconoclast. He broke the taboo on Wilhelm Furtwangler, controversially a collaborator with the Nazis, by admitting that Furtwangler’s conducting had been his major influence. Moving to and becoming a citizen of Israel, he broke the idol which silently declared that Palestinians would not benefit by Western-style education by initiating a project for music education in the Palestinian territories, which includes not only education but a youth orchestra.

In 1999, though, Mr. Barenboim with the late Palestinian-American scholar Edward W. Said, founded the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra. The name “divan” is Arabic, but was taken from a book of Goethe’s poems. The “West-Eastern” title refers to an orchestra which, remarkably, is made up of young Israelis, Palestinians and Arabs from other countries.

Even more remarkable is that the Orchestra–like Mr. Barenboim himself–is at home in concert halls throughout Europe, in Turkey, the United States, and at the United Nations.

I hesitate to say that Israelis laud this orchestra as a musical homage to brotherhood/sisterhood through art. Several personal friends, in Israel and New York loathe the very concept. One New York musician made a point of telling me that he wouldn’t go near Carnegie Hall while the Orchestra was in town.

Not that this would faze Daniel Barenboim the least bit. He has always marched to a different drummer, even though here he marched to a full-sized orchestra which is performing the complete Beethoven symphony cycle over a week. And while I would have thought that a full house was inevitable, this second night was anything but full. The applause was appreciative from the start, but the empty seats were all too apparent.

This was unworthy of an orchestra which does more than try hard. For one thing, they did the almost impossible. The three-horn trio of the “Eroica” Scherzo was played without a single fluff. Few orchestras can claim that. More important, the Third Symphony was actually rousing. The ensembles of the orchestra were not only together, they played with a galvanic brilliance.

Mr. Barenboim had hurt his leg a few days ago, and his conducting style may have been hurt as well. Usually Mr. Barenboim keeps his cueing to a minimum, looking (like Furtwängler?) for the grand style. Here, gestured with every note, obviously ascertaining that his players did it right. At the same time, something seemed not terribly spontaneous, he was making the effort far too consciously.

On the good side, nothing was harsh, nothing was disconcerting here. On the other hand, for the great fugue of the second movement, one does long for the long silken tones of New York or Berlin or Chicago. But outside oof those longings, Mr. Barenboim gave a performance that lifted up the spirits.

That was not quite true with the opening Fourth Symphony, a not always comfortable combination of Haydnesque humor and Beethoven gruffness. The orchestra played well enough, with some terrific solos by oboe and flute (for some reason, the names of the players were not listed), but Mr. Barenboim emphasized, even exaggerated the retards as if to underline their expressive players.

No problem, though. That was his style. He has a few more nights to go. And while the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra is a mouthful of a title, their reputations arfe well earned, not so much for international amity as for excellent music-making.

Harry Rolnick



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