World Renowned Pianist Plays at Birzeit Univesity

 Birzeit University proudly hosted a piano recital by world- renowned conductor / pianist Daniel Barenboim on Friday, January 29. Daniel Barenboim's concert was unique because it marked the first time an artist of such stature from outside the Arab world has performed in Palestine. The conductor / pianist, is considered a cultural icon worldwide, and his appearance at Birzeit University made a profound statement in support of Palestinian cultural life.

Daniel Barenboim was invited to Palestine by the National Conservatory of Music at Birzeit University, and Tania Nasir, a tireless organizer of artistic and cultural events at the University. Barenboim had invited Mrs. Nasir to a recent recital in Jerusalem, after which he dedicated the encore to her. Nasir-- who, as a West Bank Palestinian is allowed to visit Jerusalem only with Israeli permission--was so moved by Barenboim's performance and dedication, that she extended an invitation. The pianist immediately accepted, even though he had never previously performed, or even visited, an Arab country.

Barenboim's interest in Palestine grew through contact with his friend Edward Said, Columbia University Professor of Comparative Literature, who attended this performance with the purpose of presenting the pianist to the Palestinian public.

The audience's approval was reflected in its many standing ovations--including the one it gave before the Maestro even played one note. Barenboim's demeanor was devoid of gratuitous displays of pomp, or self-hype; he was concerned only with delivering a quality performance. He admitted that he doesn't like to talk much while playing, but speaking in an appreciative, thoughtful manner, told the audience that he was pleased to play for them. "I am not a politician, nor do I have any political ambitions….I don't have any solutions to anyone's problems." He affirmed that he was deeply disturbed by the injustices carried out by Israel against the Palestinian people and that he felt he would try to contribute through "the only system I know, and that's music."

Later, at the post-concert press conference, Said attributed his interest in the pianist's work to his astonishing skill. Said was further impressed after reading a line from a book Barenboim had written, which he paraphrased for the audience: "Israel hasn't thought enough about the fact that it's part of the Middle East."

Barenboim and Said sat patiently through scores of questions. One topic which inevitably came up was Edward Said's promotion of Palestinian / Israeli bi-nationalism, as exemplified in a recent New York Times Magazine article. "Look, I think separation of people who live on the same land…based on inequality, based on ignorance….doesn't work….but the fact is, they can't run from each other. I believe that Palestinians should have self-determination; Israelis should have self-determination….I'm a totally secular person…the idea that people should live governed by religion, by ethnicity…is death." Shortly afterwards, Barenboim concurred: "There's not enough land for the kind of separation that you'd need [for Israelis and Palestinians to have any type of relations other than mutual interdependence and equality] ….This region will either be an incredible center of life for the whole world, or a disaster area, a wasteland--there's no in between."

When one reporter asked whether he'd like to eventually perform in front of an audience of both Israelis and Palestinians, Barenboim replied "of course, all of those barriers are…as far as music is concerned, artificial."

The program consisted of works by Beethoven and Chopin. Upon his request, Maestro Barenboim was joined onstage by Saleem Abboud, a 22 year-old Palestinian pianist from Nazareth, who accompanied him for a Schubert encore.

Daniel Barenboim is widely considered to be a premier figure in music today. He is the Music Director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Artistic Director of the Berlin State Opera. He frequently conducts the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonic Orchestras, and has also served as Music Director of the Orchestre de Paris. Myriad distinctions bestowed upon Mr. Barenboim include an honorary doctorate given by the Juilliard School of Music in New York (1995), and his election as the tenth honorary member of "Kameradschaft der Berliner Philarmoniker."

At the end of the recital, Mr. Barenboim was awarded Birzeit University's special commemorative plaque in appreciation of his visit and performance.

Long after most of the crowd had left, and the film and audio crews in attendance had nearly completed packing up their equipment, one reporter asked Barenboim if he felt his performance had been a success. The tired pianist wasted no time in responding: "The fact that I played here is of only one importance, is this performance going to be one of many? ….This is the only measure of the success of this evening."

Judging by the reception he received, Mr.Barenboim has got nothing to worry about. 

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