World-renowned pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim’s visit to Istanbul to close this year’s International Istanbul Music Festival didn’t answer questions about the contemporary meaning of classical music. Instead, it launched a political discussion about the conductor’s initiatives to build bridges between Israelis and Palestinians.
Barenboim, of Jewish origin, was awarded a lifetime achievement award for his contribution to music at the festival, but he prefers to talk about his contribution to the Middle East peace process.
Barenboim’s friendship with Palestinian-born writer and Columbia University professor Edward Said resulted in their international discussion about the conflict in the Middle East rising to a new dimension.
"He was Israel’s most admirable opponent," Barenboim said about Said at a press conference in Istanbul on Tuesday. "He was looking for connections between things that had no connection at all. Nothing was foreign to him." Barenboim admitted that at the beginning of their friendship, music was their common discussion topic but later evolved into talks about the peace process, which is what brought them together even more.
The discussions were converted into a book titled "Parallels and Paradoxes: Explorations in Music and Society," which was translated into numerous languages.
First visit to Istanbul was in 1999
Barenboim recalled good memories from his previous visit to Istanbul, which took place while touring with the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra. The international project, inaugurated with Barenboim’s first concert in the West Bank in 1999, turned into a workshop for young musicians from the Middle East, and later into a permanent orchestra composed of Israeli and Arab musicians.
The initiative was the most visible and successful reflection of conductor’s friendship with Said. Even though the professor died in 2003, the project continues thanks to the Barenboim-Said Foundation, which promotes music and cooperation through projects targeted at young Arabs and Israelis.
In his political statements, Barenboim seems moderate, giving as much approval as disapproval for the actions of both sides of the Middle East conflict.
According to him, the occupation influences the quality of life both of the occupier and the occupied, but the case of Palestine is more complicated because Palestinians are the minority in their own homeland.
The Argentina-born maestro holds numerous citizenships, including with Israel, as well as a passport issued by the Palestinian Authority. He resides in Berlin, but problems in the Middle East are always close to him. "It is essential for the Palestinians to understand Jewish history," Barenboim said. "But at the same time Israelis should understand that the creation of the state of Israel was a shock for the whole Arab world." In his opinion every government has a duty to be honest with its citizens, but that hasn’t been the case with Israel. "The majority of people in Israel want peace, but they don’t know the price of peace," Barenboim said.
He also underlined that his opinions come from his personal, human, non-political perspective: "I don’t believe in European values, Jewish values or Muslim values, but only in human values, the most important aspect of which is justice."