Extract from ‘Why the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra will wow the Proms,’ Tom Service on Classical Music Blog, Thursday 14th August 2008

...Whatever its ideals, the West-Eastern Divan still contains only a handful of Palestinians in its ranks (most of the Arab players come from Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, and Jordan), and that's always going to be the case unless grassroots musical opportunities improve in Palestine. And in London tomorrow afternoon at the Wigmore Hall, you can hear how one British organisation is working with young Palestinians to do just that, in a concert with the Choir of London (a misleadingly metropolitan moniker; as well as making successful recordings of John Tavener, they've been putting together projects in the Middle East since 2004). This free gig, at 3pm, will showcase the fruits of its bursary scheme, which has allowed four young Palestinian musicians the chance to live and train in London, at the Royal Academy of Music.

Where the Arab members of the West-Eastern Divan often come from privileged, middle-class backgrounds, the four musicians who will play tomorrow at the Wigmore Hall are from Ramallah, Bethlehem, and the al-Amari refugee camp - places that are, as Clemency Burton-Hill, one of the Choir of London's founders, puts it, "desperately poor, hamstrung by an illegal occupation that can turn a "simple" trip to a violin lesson into a traumatic, checkpoint-riddled, road-blocked odyssey".

This isn't a one-off idea, either: last year, the Choir of London was one of major partners in the Palestine Mozart festival, and gave the first ever fully-staged professional performance of an opera in Palestine: Mozart's Magic Flute, directed by Samuel West.

The climax of tomorrow afternoon's concert is a new composition by the four Palestinian players; a piece that you can only hope will become a metaphor for the start of new musical opportunities for the young musicians at home in Palestine, so that their dreams - and those of Barenboim and the Choir of London - can become reality.

The Guardian’s Tom Service on the COL Bursary Scheme


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