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Daniel Barenboim: A musical path to peace

The award-winning pianist and conductor talks about the power of music and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Music, an escape from reality? Not to world-renowned Israeli Argentine-born conductor Daniel Barenboim, who believes that music rather creates a bigger reality.

“A great piece of music is like a whole life, it deals in sounds with problems of mankind …. You have everything you have in human life. You have conflict, love, strategy, possibility to develop ideas,” he explains.

Barenboim has been performing since the age of seven and the pianist-turned-conductor has mesmerised audiences all over the globe with his meticulous and yet powerful performances.

In the summer of 1954, the 12-year-old Barenboim went to Salzburg to participate in Igor Markevitch’s conducting classes, where he became a ‘phenomenon’ according to legendary conductor Wilhelm Furtwangler.

In addition to the international attention he gets as one of the world’s most famous conductors and performers, he has managed to attract attention to his views on Israel and its relations with the Palestinians. His political views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have stirred controversy. His harsh criticisms of Israel’s policies, namely the settlement expansion, challenge the preconceived idea that all Israelis are Zionists and support their government’s actions.

“Israel has remained a ghetto. What is the difference between the Warsaw ghetto and Israel?” He believes that the mentality is the same. In his opinion, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is very asymmetrical because one is ‘occupied’ and the other the ‘occupier’, but according to him “in one aspect it is perfectly symmetrical and that is the lack of curiosity about the other as human beings.”

The seven-time Grammy award winner believes music can be an alternative and more tanglible solution to the conflict, rather than a political one which seems to retain the status quo.

“When you hear the narrative of the other from somebody with whom you share a passion, in this case music, and you practice it together maybe your curiosity is aroused and maybe it takes away from the aggressiveness and violence …. Music making in its highest form is the act of most resistance, not evade the problems, but really solve the essence of them”.

In 1999, Barenboim collaborated with Palestinian-American scholar Edward Said and founded the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, an initiative bringing Arab and Israeli musicians together. “Of course they argue, they argue all the time. I think that’s very healthy”.

The fact that he is the only person to carry both Palestinian and Israeli passports makes him very proud, he says, however, it renders him a controversial character on both sides of the divide.

“Controversial is a dirty word today … controversial is seen as something very negative because we are so concerned with popularity … controversial is somebody who has a way of looking at things that is not the usual way, maybe not the accepted, a very singular way,” he says.

Determined to revive classical music, Barenboim took a group of European musicians across the Egyptian border in 2011, making it the very first orchestra to perform in the Gaza Strip. During this historic visit, he recalls an episode when a Palestinian man thanked him profusely for the performance and Barenboim asked: “Why was it so important for you that I came to Gaza? And you know what he said to me? He said: You know, the people in the world have forgotten Gaza. The few who remember us send us medicine and food and we are grateful for that but you would do the same thing for animals, they also need food and medicine. But by you coming here you reminded us that we are human beings.”

During a visit to Doha, Daniel Barenboim talks to Al Jazeera about the power of music and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

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