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Daniel Barenboim brings `solace and pleasure` to Gaza with Mozart
By Conal Urquhart
3 May 2011
The orchestra arrived with the impact of a presidential motorcade, in armoured cars, with sirens wailing and flanked by dozens of armed men.
It was an unusual overture to a rendition of Mozart. But then, the arrival in Gaza of Daniel Barenboim, the world-famous Israeli conductor and his Orchestra for Gaza – featuring musicians from Paris, Milan, Berlin and Vienna - to play for an audience of schoolchildren and NGO workers was itself far from usual.
The orchestra set off from Berlin on Monday, stopped at Vienna and then landed at El Arish, close to the Egyptian side of the Gaza Strip, on a plane chartered by Barenboim himself.
As an Israeli citizen it is illegal for Barenboim to enter Gaza without a permit, and, as if that wasn`t enough, the recent murder of an Italian peace activist and fears that pro-Osama bin Laden groups in Gaza might seek revenge on western targets meant that the UN security team was on high alert.
Barenboim has previously played in Ramallah and holds an honorary Palestinian passport, and is widely praised for his attempts to reach out across the divide. In Israel, meanwhile, he has been attacked for promoting the work of Wagner.
He told his audience on Tuesday that the people of Gaza `have been blockaded for many years and this blockade has affected all of your lives.`
The aim of his orchestra, he said, was to bring `solace and pleasure` through music to the people of Gaza and to let them know that people all over the world care for them.
Gaza is more accustomed to the sound of explosions, sonic booms and the traditional drums and pipes that accompany its nightly weddings than Mozart. Many religious leaders disapprove of music, and people in general prefer Middle Eastern-style music to Western classical or popular music.
Barenboim drew a burst of applause and then a murmur of appreciation as the orchestra began when he told the audience that they might recognise the first movement of Mozart`s Symphony No 40 as it was the basis of one of the celebrated songs of Fairuz, the most famous living singer in the Arab world.
The orchestra first played Mozart`s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, which was warmly appreciated, but Barenboim`s speech at the end of the performance went down even better.
`I am a Palestinian ..… and an Israeli,` he told the audience, who applauded the second statement only slightly less than the first. `So you see it is possible to be both.`
He said the Israeli and Palestinian conflict was one between two peoples who believe they are entitled to live on a single piece of land rather than a conflict between two nations about borders, adding that the whole world understood that a Palestinian state should be established on the land that Israel occupied in 1967.
`Everyone has to understand that the Palestinian cause is a just cause therefore it can be only given justice if it is achieved without violence. Violence can only weaken the righteousness of the Palestinian cause,` he said.
Referring to the revolutions in the Arab world and the nuclear catastrophe in Japan, he said that everyone should question their past actions. `Every musician here has played these pieces many times, sometimes hundreds of times. Yesterday we looked at this music as if we had seen it for the first time. We never accept that the next note will played the same way it was played before. Thinking anew is our daily activity. I hope all the people of this region can take note of that,` he said.
Diana Rustum, 12, a pupil at a local UN school said she enjoyed the discipline of the musicians and the melody of the music. `I think it was different from Fairuz but just as beautiful,` she said.
Abdul Rahman Abu Hashem, 12, insisted that he did not get bored during the hour-long performance. `It was very good,` he said.
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