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Barenboim gets ovation in Cairo

Daniel Barenboim rehearsing with the Cairo Symphony Orchestra - 16/4/2009
Daniel Barenboim is a vocal supporter of Palestinian rights

In a rare performance by a prominent Israeli musician in Egypt, Daniel Barenboim has received a rapturous reception at the Cairo Opera House.

Mr Barenboim conducted the Cairo Symphony Orchestra playing Beethoven's Fifth Symphony.

The famed conductor and pianist has long strived to use music to bring people together in the region.

He is a supporter of Palestinian statehood and a critic of Israeli policy toward the Palestinians.

'Human project'

His visit - the result of an invitation from the Austrian embassy in Cairo - is believed to be the first by a prominent Israeli musician in Egypt, one of the few Arab states to have signed a peace deal with Israel.

As well as conducting the orchestra, Mr Barenboim played Beethoven's Pathetique piano sonata.

Every military victory of Israel has left it politically weaker
Daniel Barenboim

Answering criticism that the time was not right for such a visit, following Israel's offensive in Gaza earlier this year, Mr Barenboim said bringing musicians from both sides together was not a political project, but a human one.

"For 60 years they have been trying with force and they haven't solved anything," he said during rehearsals for the concert. "Every military victory of Israel has left it politically weaker."

"I hope very much that this, my first visit to Egypt, will maybe allow another way of thinking to come," he added.

The concert was largely welcomed in Egypt, but has been criticised by some who feel Egypt should resist closer ties with Israel until a final peace deal is reached with the Palestinians.

The Secretary-General of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, refused an invitation to attend from the Egyptian culture minister.

'Mutual ignorance'

Mr Barenboim founded the joint Arab-Israeli orchestra, the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, with the late Palestinian-American writer Edward Said in 1999 to further cultural exchange between young people in Israel and the Arab world.

His views earned him an honorary Palestinian Authority passport in 2007.

The conductor, a former child prodigy pianist who moved to Israel from his native Argentina at the age of nine, said on Wednesday that he had always been curious about life in Arab countries.

He said too few Israelis were curious about their neighbours, and that the ignorance went both ways.

"To put all Israelis in one basket and say we boycott, we don't want anything to do with them, anyone who goes there is an enemy, this is no good," he said in Cairo.

"It would be much better that Egyptians, and Syrians, and Palestinians, and Jordanians, and Lebanese, will go to Tel Aviv, and explain their point of view."

Despite leading the Divan Orchestra around the globe, the Cairo performance is only Mr Barenboim's third in the Arab world, after performances in Morocco in 2003 and the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Two concerts in Qatar and Egypt were called off in January because of safety concerns for the Divan Orchestra musicians during the Israeli offensive against the Gaza Strip.


A selection of your comments:

I was at the concert. An electrifying event indeed. There was a flattering introduction by Omar Sharif, followed by long applause. Barenboim then sat down for Beethoven's Pathetique sonata. I initially thought the sonata started a bit too hesitant; but then I realised that this start was probably meant to contrast with a rapturous finish. I remembered then one of the conversations Barenboim had with his late friend Edward Said, where he explained that the impact of a finale is always determined by the tempo of the introduction.

A similar approach was adopted for the fifth symphony... The Cairo Symphony Orchestra proved itself worthy of an inspiring interpretation of this musical journey. Then there was the prolonged handshaking, percussioned by continuous riotous applause, and the palpable feeling that history had been made.
Amr El-Zant, Cairo, Egypt

The concert was fantastic. Barenboim received deserved rapture, if not perhaps somewhat based on his reputation and the symbolic nature of the event rather than the performance. Some of Mr. Barenboim's opinions may be debatable, but his work with the West-Eastern Divan is a shining example of how the necessary tolerance and empathy may be fostered.
John, Cairo, Egypt

Unfortunately I did not attend, this is a rare occasion where the voice of reason rises above the voices of rejection, hatred and ignorance and it should be encouraged.
Ahmad Shawki, Cairo, Egypt

One of the worse aspects of the political climate in the area, from a cultural point of view, is knowing that there are interesting developments in most art forms in our neighbouring countries. Not being able to reach these places, such as Beirut, and not feeling welcomed at other locations, is a sad reality not often discussed in Israeli public life. Therefore this event, although going the other way, is a great thing.
Yoav Miller, Tel Aviv, Israel

I was present at the Daniel Barenboim concert at the Cairo Opera House. The thunderous applause he received throughout the evening was an indicator of how he performed as a pianist and conductor. At the end of the concert he personally shook the hand of every musician in the orchestra and during all this handshaking the applause continued. Daniel Barenboim is a truly great musician and human being. Those who did not attend missed great music and great ideas to their own great loss.
Nelle Evenhouse, Cairo, Egypt

The Cairo orchestra never sounded better in an extraordinary performance of Beethoven's Fifth. At the end while the audience stood clapping Barenboim shook the hands of each of the musicians. It was a moving experience on many levels.
Jere L Bacharach, Seattle, WA USA

It is so heartening to hear that Egyptian public was mature enough to receive him warmly despite of a general animosity towards Israel. May be we will even see an Egyptian musician coming to perform in Israel - I am sure he will be received equally enthusiastically.
Michael, Rehovot, Israel

Music is a universal language; don't spoil it with politics. Mr Barenboim should continue with his efforts to bring Israeli & Arab musicians together but refrain from making it anything other than the coming together of great musical talent to be enjoyed by all.
Maggie, New Jersey, USA

Birnbaum is hallucinating. He has no concept of geo-politics and the Israeli reality. Besides, this isn't the platform to rebuff his ridiculous comments. Let's just say that he should stick to music and it might even be a good idea for him to review some Jewish history during his free time.
Don Isaac Abarbanel, Emek Hefer, Israel

I didn't go to the concert. However, I respect anyone who has criticized the way Israel treats Palestinians. And it's a good thing what he does to bring both cultures' people together peacefully.
Ramy Magdy, Alexandria , Egypt.

I recently saw Maestro Barenboim at an open rehearsal in the Scala in Milan. It was the most amazing performance I ever saw. His energy, his passion and his love for music made you feel like you were participating in the performance. Music lets bodies and minds connect like nothing else. That is exactly what is needed in the Middle East - no more harsh words and silly violence.
Marco Faldetta, Palermo, Italy

Fabulous concert. He brought the house down. Never seen the Opera so full and vibrant. His views of the Middle East "union" are so real, and as he said, people have to be recognised as people, not as borders.
Mary Petersen, Cairo - Egypt



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