Might Johannes Brahms’ E-minor Sonata for piano and cello have charms to soothe the savagery of the Arab-Israeli conflict? “No, I doubt it,” said Edward Said in our last conversation, with music, three years ago. “But it could produce quite extraordinary configurations like the one last summer in Weimar,” with 80 young musicians from the Middle East
taking master classes with Yo-Yo Ma and forming a new orchestra under the baton of Daniel Barenboim. “Now I don’t think there’s any political fallout from that, except that it’s just a new pattern that I think has a role to play in providing models for different kinds of relationships between not just Arabs and Jews, but Arabs among themselves. I mean, there were many Arabs who had never met other Arabs there, and for them it was an interesting encounter. And it all came about because of this quite extraordinary power of a figure like Barenboim who is an amazing musician and a great communicator at the same time.” In the second half of our conversation in April, 2000, Professor Said (who died two weeks ago at 67) spoke with passion about his improbable but intimate alliance with the pianist-conductor Daniel Barenboim. “We both have a tremendous interest in the Middle East as a place of possibility–not because there are these separations but because there are these mixtures, you know. Neither of us live there. Daniel lives in Berlin and Chicago, and I live in New York, but the Middle East is important just as a place to go back to. And it’s a place that’s interesting to us because of the incredible variety of lives there and cultures that it’s possible to excavate. And I know from his point of view the discovery going into an Arab home, for example, which he did for the first time when we went to one in Ramallah a couple of years ago was for him a major adventure because, he said, in his own background growing up as a young musician in Israel in the ’50s he had no knowledge of what the Arabs were like, although they were living next door. And one of the things he was interested in doing, for example, is learning Arabic. And actually he made an announcement at a concert which he gave in Jerusalem, which I attended, a recital in which he said he was outraged that the program was in English and Hebrew but not in Arabic. So that notion of dissipating boundaries that are usually, in the end, quite mechanical and not worth maintaining is very much a part of this.” Listen here.