Music unites Israelis, Palestinians in Berlin

Image: akg-images/epd

At the Barenboim-Said Academy in the German capital, young Israeli and Arab musicians study together. The Hamas attacks on Israel happened just before the start of a new semester. How did they react?

“The first thing I thought was: How will our students react? How will they deal with this? How will this develop?”

Michael Barenboim, dean of the Barenboim-Said Academy, was in Vienna when Hamas attacked Israel on October 7. The following day, he returned to the music school, knowing that the unfolding events would directly affect his students — many of whom are Israeli and Palestinian.

“You could feel the tension in the air,” he recalled of his first impressions upon returning to the music academy.

The fall semester was just about to begin, 10 days after the attacks. New students had already arrived for an orientation week. They would be searching for their bearings in more than one way, trying to find out what was happening at home, all while adapting to their new environment in Berlin.

Around two weeks later, on October 23, the academy’s young orchestra would already give its first concert of the semester, at the Pierre Boulez concert hall.

Bringing together young Arab and Israeli musicians

The Barenboim-Said Academy is unlike any other institution in the world. Opened in 2015 by Michael Barenboim’s father, star conductor and pianist Daniel Barenboim, it was conceived as a continuation of the mission he had developed with the late Palestinian-American literary theorist Edward Said with their West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, which is composed of young Arab and Israeli musicians.

The music academy’s curriculum also includes an important focus on studies in humanities. Along with their musical training, students get together to learn philosophy and history, inspired by Said’s belief that “humanism is the only — I would go so far as saying the final — resistance we have against the inhuman practices and injustices that disfigure human history.”

Today, the music academy brings together Israelis and Palestinians, as well as young musicians from Iran, Lebanon and Syria. Another 20%-25% of the 80 students are from outside the Middle East, creating a pool of young talent “from 27 nations,” said academy director Regula Rapp.

Read more here Deutsche Welle