Review: West-Eastern Divan Orchestra /Daniel Barenboim, Snape Proms, August 13

Sunrise over the reed beds at Snape Maltings, home of the Snape Proms Photo: Matt Jolly

Sunrise over the reed beds at Snape Maltings, home of the Snape Proms Photo: Matt Jolly - Credit: Archant

Ever since its founding in 1999 by Edward Said and Daniel Barenboim, the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra has provided a base for young musicians from Israel, Palestine and other Arab countries to meet and experience cultural dialogue in the broadest sense. Its success is undeniable and owes much to the vision and skill of its surviving founder and conductor.

There was the sense of a special occasion at the Maltings and the players were warmly welcomed as they took the stage. The celebrated polonaise from Tchaikovsky’s opera Eugene Onegin is a brilliant curtain-raiser for the final act but it is no less effective as a concert opener and the brass fanfares sent a surge of electricity through the hall. More excitement followed as the strings hurtled up and down towards the appearance of the main tune and the evening was splendidly launched.

Lisa Batiashvili was the superb soloist in Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto; her first entry was absolutely captivating and throughout the extended first movement she kept an admirable balance between bravura display and more intimate reflection. Her tone was sweet and the exposed harmonics crystal clear. The slow movement had wistful charm and she delivered the finale’s fireworks with panache. Barenboim and the orchestra were alert and intelligent throughout and some felicitous wind passages were more evident than usual.

The second half began with the first performance of ‘Looking for Palestine’ by David Coleman, an operatic scene for soprano and orchestra and based on a play by Najla Said about her experiences of growing up in the Middle East. It was performed with great commitment and intensity by soprano Elsa Dreig with notable contributions from piano, Arabic lute and, of course, the orchestra. The work will mean more to some listeners than to others but it certainly made an impression.

Scriabin’s Poem of Ecstacy provided a fitting finale to the concert. What it lacks in organic development is more than compensated for in inventive, often thrilling orchestral detail. The playing was magnificent and it was like being at the centre of some cosmic event as Barenboim magisterially directed the final conflagration.

Gareth Jones