The West-Eastern Divan was founded in 1999 by the Argentine-Israeli pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim and the American-Palestinian writer and scholar Edward Said, in an effort to bring together Israelis, Palestinians and other Arabs, who had before only interacted "through the prism of war", as stated on the orchestra's website. The workshop later developed into what we now know as the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, a symphony orchestra that tours the world spreading the message of peace and cooperation.

Daniel Barenboim conducting the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra © Jan-Olav Wedin
Daniel Barenboim conducting the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra
© Jan-Olav Wedin

Last night was the first time they played at the Stockholm Concert Hall, and the audience seemed to know that. With a hall full of expectation, Barenboim made his entrance and almost without pause started conducting Mozart's “Jupiter” Symphony. Being the last of his symphonies, it really is crafted in a most masterly fashion, and this performance was utterly balanced and accurate. The conductor's trust in his fellow musicians was evident in his stillness, as only the fewest of directions were given. The reduced orchestra gave the chance of a more intimate listen, allowing the sweet woodwinds in particular to shine. At the same time, this reduced version seemed like a teaser and left me longing for the whole ensemble, that soon would come to the scene. A perfectly nice opening, although to me the real pearl came after the interval.

Kian Soltani, Daniel Barenboim and the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra © Jan-Olav Wedin
Kian Soltani, Daniel Barenboim and the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra
© Jan-Olav Wedin

With 24-year-old Kian Soltani as cello soloist and Miriam Manasherov on the solo viola, the second part of the concert presented Richard Strauss' tone poem Don Quixote. The composer's predilection for tone poems and programme music started early in his career and became one of the most important parts of his output. Based on Miguel de Cervantes magnum opus, the composer represents Don Quixote with the solo cello, and his squire Sancho Panza with the solo viola, the tenor tuba and the bass clarinet. The characters' diverse adventures are told in the most innovative musical language.

The sheer quality of the solo performances, not only Soltani and Manasherov, but all the other instrumental solos, was astonishing. The cooperation between the musicians was total and the result was a performance to remember. The necessary subtleties were taken to perfection, maybe with the only exception in the tutti parts, in which Soltani's sweet cello was sometimes lost under the other instruments.

This orchestra and conductor are exceptional, not only in musicality but also in the significance of their teamwork, their wish to let music be stronger than any political conflict.