A few months ago, and after years of hesitancy, I started reading Edward Said's Orientalism - a tome of book that was first published in 1978 and has had many reprints since then. A fascinating read of how the West cast the East into a category of something to be conquered, ruled, colonized, subjugated, for its own good - at once, projecting into it and seeing its own image reflected in it.
Edward Said, a Palestinian American who was a professor of comparative literature at Columbia, was a pioneer in other ways as well. His intellectual honesty and belief in the importance of clarity and exact thinking (Bertrand Russell) saw his self actualization (Maslow) take him to where two roads diverged in a wood, and he took the one less traveled by... and that has made all the difference, to him and to many of us (Frost).
I believe Edward Said's crowning achievement is when he teamed with Daniel Barenboim, the maestro of maestros, to establish the The West–Eastern Divan Orchestra - an orchestra based in Seville, Spain, and consisting of musicians from the Middle East including Egyptians, Iranians, Israelis, Jordanians, Lebanese, Palestinians, Syrians, as well as Spaniards.
The West–Eastern Divan Orchestra was founded in 1999 and named after an anthology of poems by Goethe about the Orient - this is where Said's comparative literature background comes in.
In 2016, the Barenboim-Said Akademie was established in Berlin, Germany, as a state-accredited music conservatory offering Bachelor of Music degrees and Artist Diplomas. The Akademie's President is Daniel Barenboim who is around 78 years old now.
Barenboim said "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. A project against the fact that it is absolutely essential for people to get to know the other, to understand what the other thinks and feels, without necessarily agreeing with it. I'm not trying to convert the Arab members of the Divan to the Israeli point of view, and [I'm] not trying to convince the Israelis to the Arab point of view. But I want to – and unfortunately I am alone in this now that Edward died a few years ago – ...create a platform where the two sides can disagree and not resort to knives."
One particular performance by the West–Eastern Divan Orchestra at the Proms a few years ago caught my attention. Perhaps no other piece of music can best describe the wonderful friendship that Said and Barenboim had than Elgar's Nimrod.
Elgar composed his Enigma Variations between 1898 and 1899. The Variations comprise fourteen pieces of music, each inspired by a friend or someone who had a big impact on Elgar's life.
Elgar described his fourteen Variations as not being portraits of certain individuals but that each piece of music "contains a distinct idea founded on some particular personality or perhaps on some incident known only to two people." One of those fourteen pieces is Nimrod.
Listening to Nimrod, one has to wonder what kind of friendship was this that inspired such spiritual heights in Elgar. No doubt, the kind of friendship that was and is between Edward Said and Daniel Barenboim - a Palestinian and a Jew who managed to find peace together and share it with many.
I leave you with Nimrod performed by the mighty Chicago Symphony Orchestra conducted by Barenboim - one of the best recordings of this magnificent piece: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sUgoBb8m1eE