This Saturday afternoon, conductor Daniel Barenboim and the members of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra make their first appearance in a Cal Performances concert at Zellerbach Hall. The ensemble was formed almost 20 years ago, with musicians from Israel, Palestine, and other countries in the Middle East. Violist Miriam Manasherov was 18 when the ensemble was created; she and cellist Kian Soltani will be soloists in Richard Strauss’s Don Quixote.
There’s more information about the concert at the Cal Performances website.
The orchestra was the brainchild of Barenboim and Palestinian scholar Edward Said, who in the late 1990s thought that one way to reduce the tensions in the Middle East would be to create an ensemble made up of young musicians from different backgrounds. “It was the first time I could ever meet Arab people,” Manasherov says. “My neighbors, basically, so that was quite remarkable, and exciting for both sides, I think… We only grew up with what we had from history and the media, and suddenly you see a person in front of you that has the same interests as you; it was awesome.” Soltani only joined them four years ago. “I never even considered that I would be fitting to the orchestra, because I grew up in Austria myself, and I had a very peaceful, idyllic childhood and life.” His parents, however, were from Iran. He’s found many friends in the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra. “They are really more than just, you know, an idea or a project. They are actually now a top orchestra with world class level, and I’m really happy about that… I have really learned a lot from them, I’ve realized that actually I feel very connected with this idea and with the people there, and I have also started to connect much more with my roots, and find who I am, myself.” Although he says there’s a Youth Orchestra feeling to the ensemble in its shared interests, it’s fundamentally all about the music. “Rehearsals are extremely professional. Really, if you would come to rehearsal, you would think it’s just another world-class orchestra rehearsing, especially because it’s Maestro Barenboim standing there… Now when the rehearsal is over, of course, it gets much more interesting, because there are so many people from so many different countries and traditions and backgrounds, so of course it’s much more alive.” Manasherov agrees: ” It’s a great project, and uniting people from all over the world, especially from the Middle East. But for [Barenboim], music making is the most important thing, I think. At the end, people come to have a great concert.”