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The Maestro: cultural diplomacy through music

February 1st, 2013
10:09 AM ET

By Mick Krever, CNN

The greatest compliment conductor and pianist Daniel Barenboim ever got was from a young man in the Gaza Strip.

“‘We feel the world has forgotten us,’” Barenboim recounted a man from Gaza telling him. “‘Some people remember us and they send food and medicines – but then, you would do that for animals, too. But you came and played music, made us feel like human beings again.’"

Barenboim is an Israeli, and at 10 years old stepped onto the world stage as a child-prodigy pianist.

Now, the world-famous conductor brings together bitter enemies to share music stands and the orchestra pit.

His aim, he has said, is to find out whether “music really is the universal language.”

When Barenboim mentored a young Palestinian boy, Karim, in the late 1990s, the divide was starkly evident.

“Israelis to me were something that - something that's not human even,” Karim later recounted. “And for me to actually meet people who have the same interests as me and lead relatively similar lives, it changes my view of what a human being is almost.”

When a Syrian cellist and an Israeli cellist sit down in his West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, Barenboim said, supposed enemies are playing the same notes, with the same intensity, with the same goal.

“After you've done that for six hours,” Barenboim said, “you look at this monster a little bit different because you see that he also has some of the same preoccupations - not political - that you have.”

But he is realistic about how much the diversity will change his musicians.

“We don't look for a political consensus in the orchestra, not at all,” he said. “The consensus on Beethoven is more than enough for me.”

CNN’s Meredith Milstein produced this piece for television.

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soundoff (14 Responses)
  1. starofdavidscotland

    But why SHOULD the world remember you lot.

    All you did was bring us plane hijacking and suicide bombers and targettingof f civilians while we give you billions of our tax dollars year on year for you to buy more bullets to kill more Jews

    Did you forget you were given your first ever country of Palestine back in 1937, you REJECTED IT, you rejected it agin n 1947 when offerd to you by the UN- you've been rejecting it and EVERY offer of peace ever since

    Did you also forget that when Jordan owned "your" land between 1948-67 You never proclaimed your state Why is that now?

    February 1, 2013 at 10:16 am | Reply
  2. inferencial

    @Starofdavidscotland, first of all the world does not need little man syndrome which is loudly expressed in your response. You clearly have never been involved in a potential civil war conflict where a civil war in South Africa would have made Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Mali a tea party in comparison. As Nelson Mandela once said and he was in his time a WORLD LEADER, The world will NEVER BE FREE UNTIL PALESTINE IS FREE. Remember one thing. Israel is NOTHING with out the US. Should the US Rome once did........your best safe haven is the Southern tip of Argentina.

    February 1, 2013 at 4:52 pm | Reply
  3. Canderson

    Forget about the past.... most of those who made those decisions 60 plus years ago are dead. Start with what common ground we all have NOW. Start to rebuild and rethink peace, autonomy and co-existence. There are far more important things mankind must face together than the differences between each other. Haven't we grown and evolved since 1940s?

    February 3, 2013 at 6:13 am | Reply
  4. Peter Feldman

    Music? The West-Eastern Divan Orchestra reminds me of Jewish inmates forced to listen music by Wagner in Auschwitz.

    February 3, 2013 at 2:43 pm | Reply
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