The West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, founded in 1999 and made up of equal parts of Israeli and Arab musicians, has long been more than just a symbol of what connects music. At the Salzburg Festival on Wednesday evening under Daniel Barenboim, it also set an artistic exclamation point.
Maestro Daniel Barenboim once again had everything under control. As usual calmly, with the most economical gesture, he led his peace and heart project – the Israeli-Arab West-Eastern Divan Orchestra – on Wednesday at the Salzburg Festival through an inspiring concert evening with Beethoven, Brahms and Franck. The symbolic act of a unifying music project in the powder keg of the Middle East – initiated in 1999 by Barenboim and the Palestinian Edward Said – has long since developed into a renowned, artistically high-quality orchestra in more than two decades. The final standing ovations in the Großer Festspielhaus were well deserved.
Already with Beethoven’s overture to the “Prometheus” ballet, the young musicians had the audience on their side thanks to the well-dosed melting and impressive sonority. Then the audience successfully demanded the first encore from the Brahms soloists Michael Barenboim (violin) and Kian Soltani (cello) before the break. The interpretation of César Franck’s (only) symphony was also great: finely nuanced woodwinds, mighty brass and timpani sounds as well as a string troupe that was always accurate from forte to tender pianissimo crowned the evening.
Today, Thursday, at 8.30 p.m., the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra can be experienced a second time at the Salzburg Festival. Daniel Barenboim will switch from the podium to the piano and hand over the musical direction to Lahav Shani (chief conductor in Rotterdam and Zubin Mehta’s successor as music director of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra).