Citizen musicians giving peace a chance

by Cesar Chelala

NEW YORK — Political and religious leaders could improve their peacemaking ability by paying attention to what some contemporary musicians are achieving. “Inter-religious” orchestras comprising Jewish, Muslim and Catholic musicians point the way toward a diminishing climate of violence while signaling the beginning of a new kind of relationship among people of different religious beliefs.

Such an orchestra recently formed in Argentina for the first time — the result of the work of Catholic priest Fernando Giannetti, rabbi Sergio Bergman and the president of the Argentine Islamic Center Sumir Noufouri. It is called Armonias (Harmonies). From the beginning, the initiative has received the strong support of Daniel Barenboim, the noted musician who has worked tirelessly for peace in the Middle East.

Together with the late Palestinian scholar Edward Said, Barenboim has gone on to create the West-Eastern Divan (named after an anthology of poems by Goethe), an orchestra made up of young Israeli and Palestinian musicians. The orchestra has performed throughout the world, and Barenboim has given piano recitals and music classes in Palestinian areas.

Barenboim’s peace-awareness efforts are in line with that of another Argentine pianist, Miguel Angel Estrella, the Argentine ambassador to UNESCO. Estrella is the founder of Musique Esperance, a group seeking to promote peace and justice through music. Estrella has also formed Orchestra for Peace, which gathers musicians from Israel, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Syria and the Palestinian territories.

Estrella places special emphasis on empowering the young generation. “If we are able to create a new humanism, we will be more credible to our children and the youth of today,” he says.

The conductor of Armonias is Luis Gorelik, a musician with a distinguished international career. Both conductor and musicians intend to show the possibilities for cooperation among people of different religions. Armonias is made up of 34 musicians from several Argentine provinces. There are plans to incorporate musicians from other Latin American countries.

Can a music group serve as a model for cooperation among people of different faiths? I believe it can, particularly if we see these kinds of efforts in the context of what is happening in the world today. While politicians’ actions seem to increase the divide among different religious groups, the work of the above-mentioned musicians contributes to closing that gap.

Many of today’s political and religious leaders have failed. They have led the world into cycles of violence that have increased dramatically. By trying to fight fire with fire, they have succeeded only in provoking a greater number of conflicts with more serious consequences.

Violence and suffering have not abated, and will not abate unless a climate of understanding and cooperation is fostered. It is within these conditions that efforts such as those of Barenboim with his West-Eastern Divan orchestra, Estrella with his Orchestra for Peace, and Armonias promote peace more effectively.

Only by increasing communal work and cooperation will we have any hope of ending brutal conflicts worldwide. Perhaps through civilian efforts like music, we can reach a level of understanding that can eventually lead to less violence.

People worldwide feel powerless against deadly waves of destructiveness. We can, however, build bridges of understanding and peace with music initiatives. Common citizens who belong to peace-promoting orchestras can show the merchants of war that music and cooperation can triumph over destruction and death.