Back in the 1950’s the U.S. State Department sent jazz greats Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and others to Russia during the Cold War. The idea was that American music could break down barriers and open Russia up to Western influences. In retrospect, that idealistic plan may ultimately have been successful!
This past week, on May 3, 2011, the United Nations tried something similar, helping the conductor Daniel Barenboim take the bold step of bringing a group of musicians, all hand-picked volunteers from many of Europe’s top-flight orchestras, to Gaza to give a free lunch-time concert of Mozart’s “A Little Night Music” and his G Minor Symphony.
Explaining his purpose, Mr. Barenboim made the careful distinction that he wanted this history-making event to demonstrate solidarity with Gaza’s civil society and culture. To that end, the invited audience consisted of women’s groups, business people and young musicians.
Those who have tracked Daniel Barenboim’s career know that he holds both Israeli and Palestinian citizenship and is a controversial champion of peace in the region through creating musical ties that bind. His West-East Divan Orchestra, made up of both Israeli and Arab young musicians, is perhaps the most powerful manifestation of that commitment.
The emotional effect of the Gaza concert is apparent in Michael Kimmelman’s report to The New York Times, (click to read his article): “[The musicians] played on a makeshift stage, with obvious emotion and exceptionally well, before an invited audience of several hundred that rose to cheer not just afterward but also from the moment the players walked into the hall.”
In an interview Mr. Barenboim is clearly making a point dear to him when he notes that orchestral music displays “an interrelationship of elements, a balance, with no one instrument having the voice all the time.” These are surely fundamental characteristics of the most productive and happy human relationships, whether in families or the world.
He adds: “Even musically noneducated people can feel this inherent quality of justice and rationality.” What would it be like, we wonder, if people were taught to become more aware of what they are feeling when they listen. Could that foster more expansive thinking?
We are not naive enough to think that this one event will end the enmity in the Middle East. Yet, we feel it is crucial to celebrate what imagination and commitment can accomplish. We hope you will spread the news of this event to a larger audience.
As Michael Kimmelman said: “Gazans themselves clearly received this concert as one of the most tangible signs yet of change,” and many of the older members of the audience were in tears because it had been so long since they had had Western musicians in Gaza.
As one of the Palestinian organizers of the concert said: “Young Gazans only see the West through cheap Hollywood films.” … So how can they be expected to be citizens of the world, if they are not exposed to another view?”
What do you think?
Can listening to music influence people’s thinking for the better?
Can experiences like this concert open young people to new possibilities?
One final question: why do you think Daniel Barenboim choose to play only Mozart in Gaza?
We would love to know your answers.