Edward Said, the influential Palestinian-American writer and academic—and longtime Nation contributor—passed away nearly ten years ago, but his legacy lives on in many ways, including musically.
With famed pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim, he founded the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra in 1999, a unique assembly of mainly young Arab and Israeli musicians, a symbol for collaboration, peace and understanding now known around the world. They performed, in risky and unprecedented events, in Ramallah and in the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea, for example.
As I’ve often written: the two men deserve a Nobel Peace Prize, even if for Said it would be posthumous.
The Divan, with Barenboim conducting, performed all nine Beethoven symphonies at London’s famed “Proms” concerts last summer, and starting tonight they will repeat the cycle at Carnegie Hall in New York (I’ll be attending the concluding program with the Second and Ninth symphonies on Sunday). Said, a fine pianist in his own right, was passionate about Beethoven, and wrote about him in his final piece, for The Nation.
Last night, Barenboim brought several of the members of the orchestra to the hip Greenwich Village club, Le Poisson Rouge, for a very special event, dedicated to Said. Besides Barenboim’s son, Michael, the names of the musicians alone tell a story: Nabih Bulos, Tyme Khleifi, Yael Rubinstein, Yamen Saadi, Maya Rasooly, Orhan Celibi, Hassan Moataz el Molla, Kinan Azmeh.
At the start, they welcomed Said’s widow Mariam, who is now vice-president of Barenboim’s organization in New York. Then clarinetist Azmeh, who hails from Damascus, played the moving “Prayer for Edward Said,” solo:
After a solo violin Boulez piece from Michael Barenboim, Azmeh returned with Daniel and Michael Barenboim to play a short extract from Bartók. They closed the program with all (except Daniel) playing Mendelssohn’s famed Octet, op. 20—a stirring performance that drew a long ovation. It was all the more powerful as the musicians from different, often hostile, countries traded lines or merged with incredible musical sympathy.
Then a host from the stage announced that there was an “after-party”—with a funky mix provided, of course, by another Barenboim son, David.
And the Barenboim-Said message will live on, permanently. From the program notes: “In November 2012, Maestro Barenboim announced the formation of the Barenboim-Said Academy in Berlin, Germany, which will upon its opening in 2015 translate the experience of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra into a permanent, year-round institution for young musicians from the Middle East, building on the legacy of Edward W. Said’s work. In addition to music instruction, students will receive a core curriculum in arts and humanities. Housed in a building adjacent to the Staatsoper, the Academy will feature a concert hall designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry.”
Greg Mitchell last wrote on the media and whether it can help keep the gun debate alive long enough  for laws to be enacted.