Menu West-Eastern Divan Orchestra

  • Remembering Edward Said
    Photo courtesy of Mariam Said

Remembering Edward Said

The origins of the West-Eastern Divan lie in the conversations between its founders, Palestinian author/scholar Edward Said and Israeli pianist/conductor Daniel Barenboim. Though it has now been ten years since Edward Said’s untimely passing, his legacy to the orchestra lives on in the ensemble’s concerts and workshops, its partner projects, and in the lives and communities of its musicians worldwide.

On October 17, Raja Shehadeh – a prominent Palestinian lawyer and writer, and recipient of the 2008 Orwell Prize – will give the Edward W. Said Memorial Lecture at Columbia University. Later this month on October 30, the University will host “Palestine and the Public Intellectual: Honoring Edward Said,” a conversation between Judith Butler and Cornel West in the Low Library Rotunda. Last month, Columbia University also reflected on Said’s legacy with four speakers and film screenings in an event hosted by the Heyman Center for the Humanities.

We invite you to explore a selection of Edward Said’s writings on the Listen & Watch page of this website, as well as to watch Dr. Said’s speech upon receiving the Prince of Asturias Award for Concord with Daniel Barenboim in 2002. Here below is an excerpt from his remarks:

“Strange though it may seem, it is culture generally, and music in particular that provide an alternative model to identify conflict.

I can only speak here as a Palestinian, but it has often struck me how impoverishing and constraining our life of struggle has been, simply because as a people deprived of citizenship we have tended to focus all our energies on the immediate goal of achieving independence by the most direct means possible. This is understandable of course. But there is what I might call the long-range politics of culture, that provides a literally wider space for reflection and ultimately for concord rather than endless tension and dissonance.

Literature and music open up such a space because they are essentially arts not of antagonism principally but of collaboration, receptivity, re-creation, and collective interpretation.

No one writes or plays an instrument just to be read or listened to by oneself: there is always a reader and a listener, and over time, the number increases. My friend Barenboim and I have chosen this course for humanistic rather than political reasons, on the assumption that ignorance and repeated self-assertion are not strategies for sustainable survival. Discipline and dedication have provided us with the motor to bring our communities together in concert, without illusion and without abandoning our principles. What is so heartening is how many young people have responded, and how, even in this most difficult time, young Palestinians have chosen to study music, learn an instrument, practice their art.

“Who knows how far we will go, and whose minds we might change? The beauty of the question is that it cannot easily be answered or easily dismissed. Your acknowledgment of our efforts, however, takes us a great step forward.

Read the full text of the speech here.