After a thirty minute delay, the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra (WEDO) took to the stage of the Großes Festspielhaus, to perform Mahler’s Adagio from the 10th Symphony and Beethoven’s “Eroica”. For an (alleged) youth orchestra, there are a surprising variety of balding patterns among the players, and Barenboim’s younger son, violinist Michael, at the first desk. Several of the musicians that still perform with the orchestra are already established members of proper, paid, professional orchestras—but for one reason or another still tour with the WEDO which is in any case and for all the good intentions, more Spanish than either Palestinian or Israeli. It is questionable how much intercultural dialogue the work the project, founded by Barenboim together with Edward Said to get some outreach going in the Israeli-Palestinian question. Only: Now that Said is dead, one wonders who will present the Israeli side of things.
West-Eastern Divan Orchestra
Beethoven & Mozart, Sy.5 & Sinfonia Concertante,
Barenboim / WEDO
Beethoven, Mozart, Schoenberg, Tchaikovsky, The Salzburg Concerts,
Barenboim / WEDO
They would have liked the musical performance even better! Very beautiful long lines rising and falling (not always perfectly together) and soft transitions marked this very well conceptualized and conducted Mahler Adagio. A gorgeous, surprisingly pain-free, and sumptuous world of Mahler where the anguish was ironed out, fluidity reigned, and softest sounds emerged organically from fortissimo outbursts. The shrieking chords that mark the descent toward the Purgatorio (the short third movement of the Tenth) were paused for, then stacked and harmoniously drawn out—different, and lovely. The WEDO’s thick, fast, zesty Eroica was at least as good, showed off the wide dynamic bandwidth of the orchestra, the mature, fantastic woodwinds (fourth movement), and Barenboim’s penchant for a dark and varnished sound that’s sadly gone rather out of fashion in this repertoire. In the third movement he leaned back and let the orchestra play on its own, just giving seemingly careless cues here and there before—nearly poking the principal second violinist’s eye out with a baton stab’n’swirl in the process—getting back into active conducting as an excited forte broke out. If only all not-actually-that-young youth orchestras with politically questionable baggage sounded that good!