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May 3, 2011

Why I admire Daniel Barenboim's 'peace concert' in Gaza Strip

It turns out that the raid on Osama bin Laden wasn't the only secret operation being painstakingly planned on recent days.

A rare concert, also planned in secret a few weeks ago, took place Tuesday in the Gaza Strip.

Pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim, with musicians of the Berlin Philharmonic, Staatskapelle Berlin, Vienna Philharmonic,Orchestre de Paris and La Scala of Milan, crossed into the Hamas-controlled territory from Egypt to give an hour-long, all-Mozart performance at a beachfront center.

The Argentinian-born Barenboim, who holds Israeli and, as of 2008, Palestinian citizenship, has long championed Middle East peace and Palestinian rights. He has previously given concerts in the West Bank. A few years ago, he formed the remarkable East-West Divan, a youth orchestra containing players from Arab countries and Israel.

Needless to say, Barenboim is extremely popular in some corners, loathed in others. I'd say he is surely one of the bravest musicians of our time.

The Gaza concert, organized by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, was attended by about 700 people, including schoolchildren. According to press reports, Barenboim spoke to the audience about his dual status, saying ...

"So you see it is possible to be both." He described the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as one "of two peoples who are convinced they have the right to live in the same little piece of land. Therefore, our destinies are linked."

In words likely to enrage his critics again, Barenboim also said: "No people should be expected to live under occupation."

I can't help but admire this brilliant artist for his commitment to the cause of reconciliation. Where others keep trotting out the same arguments, keep digging deeper into the same entrenchments, Barenboim keeps trying to reach out, to show the common humanity of all people in the region, to remind them how much better things could be if peace could be achieved.

I also admire the compelling way he chooses to communicate and advocate through great music. He truly believes, as we're all taught, that music is a universal language. Some people still need it to be translated into their own narrow dialect; others would rather clamp noise-blocking devices on their ears so they can't hear it at all. But Barenboim seems as confident as ever in music's potential as a unifying, redemptive force. 

The Gaza concert is probably too small of a gesture, in the grand scheme of things, to make much of an impact on the region. Still, it's a useful reminder of how crucial it is to secure a Middle East peace.

Seems to me this is the best possible time to rev up negotiations, to turn all of the events of recent weeks and months -- the movement for change in many Arab states, the elimination in Abbotabad of a hideous international terrorist -- into a reason to heal long-festering wounds.

Imagine the wide-reaching seismic shift if Israel and the Palestinians actually forged a comprehensive accord now. Many a terror organization would lose its rallying point. Cultures that have spent decades denying their common ground would have a chance to explore and celebrate it.

Sure, this is a wildly idealistic dream. But that doesn't make it impossible. That's the message Barenboim has reiterated for a long while. The sounds of Mozart's "Eine kleine Nachtmusik" and Symphony No. 40, peformed Tuesday in Gaza, will not bring down walls or diffuse rockets, but they can't hurt or exclude anyone.

I hope Barenboim will keep stirring things up with his concerts, will continue to use the beauty and depth of classical music in his quest to help change the world.



Posted by Tim Smith at 10:41 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Clef Notes


Not a small gesture at all. Many times the first step is the hardest and bravest. There will never be peace unless there is forgiveness and understanding. What better vehicle than music? Symphonic music is "One of the few human activities where you meet with others to agree, to concert" (Jose Antonio Abreu dixit)

We wholeheartedly agree with Gordon’s brief statement; “Music unites, Religion divides!” It says it all and what the politicians and popes failed to deliver, Daniel Barenboim has done. We salute his courageous demeanor, as an Israeli conductor to perform on the other side of the fence. Let’s hope for more courage and less corruption in this world. Bravo Maestro Daniel Barenboim, we salute you!!!

Readers might find this Financial Times article on Barenboim of interest where he speaks out on the Israeli-Palestinean conflict (besides musical matters).

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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