In His Return, Daniel Barenboim Reflects on What Chicago Has Meant to His Career

By Keegan Morris |

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Daniel Barenboim conducts the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra (Photo: Monika Rittershaus)

“In 1970, I was many things, but not an experienced conductor,” admitted Daniel Barenboim at a press conference at Symphony Center on October 29, 2018. “And therefore, for me to stand in front of the Chicago Symphony was an event of shattering importance. And I mean every syllable of that. And then to stay, and come so regularly [to work] with the orchestra, is something that accompanied me for a quarter of a century before I became music director.”

After much anticipation, Daniel Barenboim is back in Chicago, if only for a few more days. On Monday, November 5, 2018, Maestro Barenboim will return to Symphony Center to lead the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra. Barenboim also led the CSO in three performances of Smetana’s Má vlast on November 1-3. These concerts marked Barenboim’s first time conducting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra since his 15-year tenure as the music director of the CSO ended in 2006.

During the last several years of his time with the CSO, Barenboim began a new project, the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, which he co-founded in 1999 with the late Palestinian-American professor, author, and intellectual, Edward Said. The Divan Orchestra is unique in that it unites young musicians from Israel, Palestine, Iran, Syria, and other Middle Eastern countries through music. Barenboim has described the project as an “orchestra against ignorance.”

During the press event at Symphony Center, Barenboim noted that nearly 1,000 musicians have performed in the orchestra. He argued that the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra can ease the deep-seated animosity and conflict between these nations, at least among the group of young musicians. “So imagine you come as a Syrian… and you just sit at the cello stand next to an Israeli… You tune the same ‘A,’ you play the same bowing, you play the same phrasing, the same speed, the same, the same, the same, the same, the same. Six hours of rehearsal trying to do the same thing with your archenemy… I mean, after three days, of course you think differently about that, about him.”

From the Divan Orchestra to the CSO, Barenboim is happy to share these performances in the city that has meant so much to his conducting career. “I came [to Chicago almost] every year… from 1970-2006. And therefore, my association with the musicians was and is very deep.”