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  • Musician Spotlights: WQXR Radio Interviews

Musician Spotlights: WQXR Radio Interviews

Four musicians of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra spoke with WQXR radio at the Lucerne Festival this summer. Their interviews are available here to discover.

Layale Chaker, Lebanon/Palestine, violin

“In this orchestra, we come to a place that is by default a place of debate, and of dialogue, and of coexistence–which is very rare and actually doesn’t exist anywhere else…. Here we’re not in a situation where there is an oppressed and an oppressor. It’s different. We are by default all equal, which makes it possible–and beautiful–to see human relationships and friendships grow day after day.”

Boris Kertsman, Israel, trumpet

“Having grown up in Israel, of course, it’s a democratic country. But we have our media there, of course. The first time I was talking to an Arab musician, it was totally different [from narratives in the media]. We were fighting, struggling. We had conversations. Little by little, I started seeing other sides, other aspects, and a fuller picture of the thing.”

Mina Zikri, Egypt, violin

“The Divan Orchestra, for people that participate in it, is more than musical project. It’s also a human project. It sends a clear message, not necessarily giving any solutions, but it offers a model of thinking at least…. Sometimes you are accused of normalization and looking over obvious problems. But we always stress that we are not a peace project; we’re not trying to solve anything when we can’t. But we are listening to the narrative of the other and at least understanding it—which is what happens in the orchestra, when you play the primary line and the clarinet has to listen to you, while he or she still plays, and you the do the opposite. So there is a space for everyone to express themselves. While the others are not necessarily silent, they are still expressing–-in support of the other or listening to the other.”

Miriam Manasherov, Israel, viola

“The music sets a bridge. Through the music you open yourself to things you would not have been open to otherwise.”


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  • Note from Lucerne: On Exile
    Manuel Vaca

Note from Lucerne: On Exile

Layale Chaker, a violinist in the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, shares a reflection on a discussion about Edward Said and the concept of exile. Her note is reproduced below:

One evening in Lucerne, we gathered to watch a documentary film about Edward Said, where the late Palestinian intellectual chronicled aspects of his personal life, as well as some of his intellectual reflections. Although he discussed his thoughts on exile, he opposed them, once again, to any form of identity proclamation, and to glorifying exile into a romantic struggle, a longing for the ancestral land, for the orange blossoms, or the olive trees. It is precisely, to me, what makes his work so paradoxical and so difficult to understand. What is exile, if it is not an insurmountable pain, a ground crack between the human being and his native land?

After the film, Ronni Mann began the discussion with a question: “Which of you here feels exiled? ” Not more than three or four timid hands arose. This opened the floor for a discussion which soon took a path that started to answer my questions.

Exile concerns those who, uprooted, have always felt stateless, but it can also concern the uprooting chosen by musicians, who can only fulfill their engagement through voluntary detachment, and through taking a journey.

For musicians, exile can therefore take a metaphorical turn, as it becomes one of the conditions for creativity and artistic production, which carry within them an essential critical and dissident force. Our position as outsiders would then become an instrument of resistance, a gesture of emancipation and transgression, and a liberating alternative. Our instability, whether initially forced upon us or chosen, can become a vocation, and a medium of new possibilities, as it allows the emergence of forgotten truths and the birth of alternatives.

There is something greatly soothing when discussing and thinking about these subjects together. Reflecting upon our vocation as musicians in the context of the Divan, as well as in the wider context of artists in the world, can only guide us further into our chosen engagements and our goals. Becoming thinking musicians in order to better carry our aims… That is one thought that could resume this summer’s tour.”

– Layale Chaker, violin

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  • Note from Lucerne: Hegel & Said
    Manuel Vaca

Note from Lucerne: Hegel & Said

“On the 17th of August something extraordinary happened in Lucerne: members of the West-Eastern Divan sat in a room and talked about….Hegelian self-consciousness. Another subject matter was Edward Saïd’s concept of orientalism, but that may not be quite as extraordinary. What had happened?

Roni Mann and Mena Mark Hanna, two thinkers from Israel and Egypt who will work for the newly created Barenboim-Saïd Academy, had come to visit us.Roni began with Hegel: self-consciousness only exists when it is recognised by others. The famous master-slave dialectic served as an explanation and as a basis to understand this idea. Then Mena continued with Saïd, at first linking his ideas to the power-relationship of the master and the slave. Saïd uses the conceptual pair of nationalism and exile. His assumption is that in exile one has at least two identities, as opposed to just one “national” identity, and that is comparable to the slave who is forced to perceive the world through his own eyes and also through the eyes of his master. The discussion then led to the concept of orientalism which denotes the collection of ideas of the “orient” that serve to prove their inherent inferiority. This concept is necessary for the coloniser to legitimise his actions.

Why is this extraordinary? Because everyone expects us to talk about Gaza, the occupation, rockets, injustice, security, etc., which we did before. But nobody would expect Hegel. Absolutely nobody. And nobody expects that from any orchestra, anywhere. Long may it continue!”

– Michael Barenboim, violin

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