Much music-making today is about commerce. Famous artists regularly play chamber concerts after one or two rehearsals. Veteran orchestra players sit back in their chairs while they play, bored yet holding on to their income until retirement. Tonight I heard music that matters: Daniel Barenboim conducting the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra (WEDO) here in Doha, Qatar.
I hasten to say that I’m privileged to work for another orchestra that matters, another orchestra that plays with passion, the Qatar Philharmonic. Indeed, there’s some overlap between our professional orchestra and WEDO, which describes itself as “a workshop for young musicians from Israel, Palestine and various Arab countries of the Middle East seeking to enable intercultural dialogue and to promote the experience of collaborating on a matter of common interest.”
The program itself spoke of the significance of the evening of music. Instead of an overture the program began with Mahler’s Tenth Symphony. I hadn’t consulted the program, so I found the idea breathtaking on hearing the opening bars. For me Mahler 10 in its eloquence reflected the horrendous state of Palestinian-Israeli relations. I hadn’t heard the Tenth in 45 years of concert-going; but then this was the perfect first live hearing.
Barenboim followed the Mahler with Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony. I have a special affection for the Third. As a high school student I listened endlessly to Max Rudolf’s recording with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. I never tired of its struggle, which I likened to my own life.
Barenboim said tonight he had been making music on stage for 61 years. I had the pleasure of hearing him for many years as a subscriber in Chicago. Despite all those years he doesn’t take music lightly. Nothing was automatic tonight; all was effortful. At every point Barenboim drew WEDO and the audience into the meaning of the music. At every point WEDO played with heart and energy.
Over the last five years some of the most memorable orchestra performances I’ve heard were student or festival orchestras: Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra with Dudamel, Verbier Festival with Dutoit and Argerich, Schleswig-Holstein Festival with Eschenbach and Lang Lang, and now WEDO. I’ve also heard the Chicago Symphony play Shostakovich 4 with heart, and I’ve heard terrific performances from the LA and New York Philharmonics. It can be done by professionals. May that become the rule once again.