Magic Moments of Music | Daniel Barenboim and the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra in Ramallah

A film by Anne-Kathrin Peitz, ZDF/arte, 52 min, 2022
For decades, life in the West Bank has been dominated by the violent clashes between Israeli soldiers and Palestinians. In 2005, there was brief hope of a peaceful agreement, but for the people of Ramallah, the Middle East conflict continued much as before. In the midst of this tension, 80 young Arab, Spanish and Jewish musicians travelled to the Palestinian capital alongside world-renowned conductor Daniel Barenboim with a collective aim of sending a signal of reconciliation. It was the concert of their lives.

On August 21, 2005, the eyes of the world were on Ramallah: 80 young Arabic, Spanish and Jewish musicians had travelled to the Palestinian capital to play the concert of their lives. The “West-Eastern Divan Orchestra” headed by Daniel Barenboim would go on to write history with their singular performance.

It is a music event held in extreme circumstances: For decades, life in the West Bank has been dominated by violent clashes between Israeli soldiers and Palestinians. Although an official truce was in place at the time of the concert, the Middle East conflict was by no means resolved, and to this day it remains a far-off dream. In Israel, the musical undertaking was viewed with scepticism and Barenboim was publicly attacked. Just a few days before the concert, Spain offered the entire orchestra visas to prevent a potential cancellation and to ensure their safety.

© Peter Dammann / Agentur Focus Ramallah, Palestine, Westbank, May 2004 The entrance to Ramallah from Jerusalem - Checkpoint Qalandia

Founded six years earlier by Daniel Barenboim and the late Palestinian scholar Edward Said, the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra attracted international attention and became famous almost overnight.

With this performance, the orchestra set a clear signal, not least through the choice of programme. Beethoven’s “Symphony of Destiny” represents a vision of human reconciliation, while Mozart’s “Sinfonia concertante” impressively underscores the possibility of peaceful coexistence through music, with soloists on bassoon, horn, oboe and clarinet originating from Israel and Syria and Egypt.

This great moment in music is reflected not only in the legendary concert recording. Documentary passages about the origins of the orchestra and the closeness and fellowship of the musicians as well as the pictures taken during the spectacular Ramallah trip transform the film into tangible musical history. In newly filmed conversations, Daniel Barenboim, Mariam C. Said and a selection of musicians cast their minds back over their experiences of this momentous evening. Prominent personalities who are friends of the orchestra, including actor Christoph Waltz, cellist Yo-Yo Ma and singer Waltraud Meier, explore the question of what music can achieve in such a context.