A Nazareth miracle
By Noam Ben-Zeev
It all began with a declaration by the conductor, Daniel Barenboim - a slightly hasty declaration, as he admitted later - that he would establish a Palestinian classical youth orchestra. Two years later, at a Nazareth cultural center provided by the municipality, that orchestra's sound left us amazed. More than 40 youngsters from Ramallah, Nazareth, Bethlehem, Haifa and Nablus were there, playing instruments including the French horn, cello, trombone and contrabass in a fantastic performance that met every standard of a youth orchestra.
The concert was the result of intensive practice at a two-week music camp that took the Palestinians nine months to organize. The project was funded by the Barenboim-Said Foundation; Ramallah's Al-Kamandjati music school took part in the effort, and the Belgian Ictus ensemble also contributed - in part by providing teachers, some of whom played alongside the children - as did Nazareth's Orpheus nonprofit. Instruments, entry permits, transportation to and from he territories, sleeping accommodations and food were arranged for the children, their teachers and those accompanying them - even though the organization seemed to be a hopeless endeavor. Children met relatives who had been separated from their families for years. For most of the children, this was their first time out of their villages.
The elegant cultural center was lit festively, and those there enjoyed a musical evening that sacrificed neither repertoire nor discipline. Conductor Anna-Sophie Breuning did not pander to either the donors or the audience, and chose works that were demanding and therefore also enjoyable and exciting. The first part was devoted to Bach's Concerto in D Minor, featuring a solo by Nazareth pianist Bishara Harouni, who has been endowed with wonderful rhythm and a great concerto resonance. Pieces from other Bach concerti - the fifth Brandenburg Concerto, and the Double Concerto for violin and oboe - followed. For the finale, the entire orchestra gathered for George Bizet's two L'Arlesienne suites, playing them as they rarely are played - in full (aside from a particularly difficult passage).
A Nazareth miracle - that is how this orchestra could be described, if one were not aware of the tremendous effort that had gone into it. The beautiful sound of the string instruments, the development of the soloists over the past two years, the control that very small children had developed of the clarinet and cello in such a short time - all of these are the result of the children's ambition, the teachers' determination and the donors' generosity. Just as in 19th-century Europe and early 20th-century Israel, it seems that music is an important component in the Palestinian desire for self-determination and independence.