Daniel Barenboim conducts Israeli-Arab orchestra for Pope

Daniel Barenboim conducts members of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra near Rome as Pope Benedict XVI, seated at right, listens.
(AFP/Getty Images)

Pope Benedict XVI attended a classical concert Wednesday that doubled as a political event in which the leader of the Catholic Church called for peace in the Middle East. Conductor Daniel Barenboim led members of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, a group comprised of Israeli and Arab musicians.

The private concert featured performances of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 and 6, and was intended to celebrate the feast day of St. Benedict. The event was held at the Pope’s summer retreat in Castel Gandolfo, Italy, south of Rome. The Pope is an avid classical music fan who is also an accomplished piano player.

The West-Eastern Divan Orchestra was founded by Barenboim and the late scholar Edward Said in 1999. The orchestra features musicians from Israel, Palestine and other Arab countries.

The Pope was quoted by Israel’s Haaretz newspaper as saying in a speech after the concert that “to achieve peace one has to be committed, leaving behind violence and weapons, committed to the conversion of people and communities, to dialogue, to the patient search for possible understandings.”


In his address, the Pope also mentioned that his parents and those of Barenboim endured the period of World War II and the Holocaust, according to the newspaper. As a young man in Germany, the Pope, whose birth name is Joseph Ratzinger, served for a period in the Hitler Youth movement as well as the German army during the war.

The Pope invited Italian President Giorgio Napolitano and his wife as his guests for Wednesday’s concert, according to the Associated Press.


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