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Opening Concert


  • Bedřich Smetana: My Country


  • West-Eastern Divan Orchestra
  • Daniel Barenboim - conductor
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2100 - 4900 CZK


12 / 05 / 2022
Thursday 20.00
No intermission
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My Country is again in the hands of Daniel Barenboim

I consider Má vlast to be one of the most significant masterpieces of the 19th century, so it is a great joy to keep coming back to it.” says Daniel Barenboim, the legendary pianist and conductor who celebrates his 80th birthday in 2022. Opening the 77th annual Prague Spring Festival will be the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, a unique ensemble that Barenboim established together with the Palestinian-American scholar Edward Said to support dialogue between the various cultures of the Middle East through their music and coexistence.

Of course, this will not be the first time that Barenboim has opened the Prague Spring Festival with Bedřich Smetana’s Má vlast. In 2017 he conducted it at the groundbreaking opening concert with the Vienna Philharmonic, with which he also conducted the work on a European tour in Vienna, Linz, Munich, and Paris. “We are overjoyed that Daniel Barenboim has taken the emblematic work of the Prague Spring Festival, made it his own, and is promoting it all around the world”, says Prague Spring Festival director Roman Bělor. “There could be no greater symbolism than to perform this particular masterpieces with an orchestra of musicians from Israel, Palestine and other Arab countries”, says the conductor about opening the festival with the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra.Home and homeland are very meaningful to all of them, in different ways.

“The destinies of Israelis and Palestinians are inextricably linked”

The West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, an ensemble named for the West–östlicher Divan, a collection of poetry by J. W. von Goethe, is not an ordinary youth orchestra. It was established in 1999 as a kind of social statement. The idea of the Palestinian-American scholar and influential intellectual Edward Said (1935–2003) and of his friend Daniel Barenboim was that if the people of the Middle East are unable to come to terms politically, music as a universal language would be able to serve as a means of communication between people on opposite sides of the barricades. The only political aspect that prevails in the work of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra is the conviction that “there is no military solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict and that the destinies of Israelis and Palestinians are inextricably linked. Music grants the individual the right and the obligation to express him- or herself fully while listening to their neighbour”.

A project against ignorance

Today, the best young musicians from Israel and Palestine as well as from Egypt, Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Spain, and Turkey come together to study musical works and to give the best of themselves under one flag. It is no wonder that in 2016 the United Nations appointed the orchestra as a Global Advocate for Cultural Understanding”. The orchestra’s founder and conductor Daniel Barenboim emphasises, however, that the thought of music bringing peace is a bit idealistic. “The Divan is not a love story, and it is not a peace story. It has very flatteringly been described as a project for peace. It isn’t. It’s not going to bring peace, whether you play well or not so well. The Divan was conceived as a project against ignorance. (…) I’m trying to create a platform where the two sides can disagree and not resort to knives.

Knowledge is the Beginning

The orchestra’s first rehearsals took place in Weimar and Chicago, and the orchestra is now based in the Spanish city Seville, where it is supported by the regional government of Andalusia. The musicians usually gather there each summer before going on tour. The orchestra hasplayed before Pope Benedict XIV and at the UN headquarters, and at London’s BBC Proms it has performed Beethoven’s complete symphonies. Although it appears at the most prestigious venues including Berlin’s Philharmonie, Vienna’s Musikverein, and New York’s Carnegie Hall, one of the orchestra’s main goals is to appear in the countries where its members come from. The seemingly unthinkable gradually began to be realised when the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra gave concerts in Rabat (Morocco), Doha (Qatar), and Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates). A breakthrough came with the concert in Ramallah on the West Bank of the Jordan. After incredible complications for the organisers, the performance of Mozart’s Sinfonia concertante, Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, and Edward Elgar’s Enigma Variations was ultimately a sensation. The orchestra’s activity has been captured in the documentary film Knowledge is the Beginning, for which the director Paul Smaczny won an Emmy.

Rafael Kubelík as a model

There is no need for proof that Bedřich Smetana’s cycle of symphonic poems can be understood not only by Czechs, but also by foreign musicians. This can be seen from the number of outstanding performances by orchestras and conductors from around the world. Daniel Barenboim (* 1942) became familiar with vlast thanks to the founder of the Prague Spring Festival, the conductor Rafael Kubelík. “His interpretation has, to this day, remained the model for me”, he admits. Not just his words, but also his actions demonstrate him to be one of the great lovers of the work. He has repeatedly conducted Smetana’s cycle not only with the Vienna Philharmonic, but also with the Staatskapelle Berlin and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and he has made a CD recording of it. The performance of the work at the opening concert of the 2017 Prague Spring Festival became a major event and one of the pillars of the festival’s history. In a review for the music journal Harmonie titled “An international Má vlast that will go down in history”, Petr Veber wrote that “Barenboim’s conception was musically authoritative—the seal of a personality that does not seek but knows, that does not hesitate but fully and securely feels. It is the contribution of a conductor who communicates wonderfully and naturally with the players, who leads inconspicuously, and who does not conduct for effect.” On the occasion of the concert, the film director Martin Suchánek made a unique documentary titled Barenboim: Smetana – Má vlast.

For the first time in 1966

Daniel Barenboim was born in Buenos Aires. As a boy he and his family moved from there to Israel. From childhood he began developing his talent for piano playing and conducting. When he played for the conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler in 1954, the great artist declared that the “Eleven-year-old Daniel Barenboim is a phenomenon”. To this day he pursues the parallel careers of a conductor and pianist, alternating solo recitals with conducting engagements, appearing as a soloist with orchestra and sometimes also conducting from the piano. During his long career, he has made regular guest appearances with the Vienna Philharmonic and the Berlin Philharmonic, and he has held the positions of chief conductor of the Orchestre de Paris (1975-1989) and music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (1991-2006). Since 1992 he has been the general music director of the Staatsoper Unter den Linden in Berlin, and in 2000 the Staatskapelle Berlin chose him as its conductor for life. He first appeared at the Prague Spring Festival in 1966, when he conducted the English Chamber Orchestra from the piano. Since then, he has been returning to the festival regularly.

Listen to the legendary concert in Ramallah

Watch a concert of West-Eastern Divan Orchestra at Salzburger Festspiele 2021