Barenboim's Beethoven marathon

Classical conductor Daniel Barenboim enjoys a challenge. There’s a worry he might have taken on a little too much with his latest project though. With his West-Eastern Divan Orchestra he is setting out to play all of Beethoven’s symphonies at this year’s Proms. As if that’s not enough he is throwing in works from contemporary composer Pierre Boulez.

"I had three choices," Barenboim explained in The Guardian. "I could either just play Beethoven and his contemporaries. That's not interesting to me – I wanted to make this music sound modern. So then I could try to find a different modern composer for each programme; or I could find a single composer whose music could stand the tension of being sandwiched between two symphonies of Beethoven, which is not easy."

He considered Elliott Carter and Harrison Birtwhistle, before opting for Boulez. "In the end, I chose Boulez because his music works in the opposite direction from Beethoven's. Those are my three favourite contemporary composers. You see, I don't go very far in the alphabet: Birtwistle, Boulez, Carter."

His West-Eastern Divan Orchestra is an ambitious ensemble that puts young Israeli and Palestinian musicians together to play symphonies. Musical ambitions aside, this project is a real challenge.

"The day I go on a tour and play Damascus, Amman, Tel Aviv and Cairo – then the full dimension of the Divan will come into play," he said. He is optimistic that might one day be possible, although he points out that the situation is now much worse than in 2005, when he took the orchestra to play in Ramallah in Palestine.

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