An Orchestra Beyond Borders

In the summer of 2006, Elena quite unintentionally became a member of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, an ensemble founded by Daniel Barenboim and Edward Said in 1999 in order to bring young Israeli and Arab musicians into dialogue with each other. The Lebanon war had just broken out, and the orchestra’s Lebanese and Syrian members were unable to leave their countries. In order to prevent the workshop from being cancelled, Daniel Barenboim asked Elena and a handful of other professional musicians to play in the orchestra that summer. Her involvement with the orchestra continued after the war was over, and in 2007 she returned to the workshop to teach a group of young Palestinian children from Nazareth and the West Bank and to play in the orchestra again.

Elena continued to return to the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra to play, teach, and observe discussions and seminars over the following years, and in the summer of 2008 she became convinced that the remarkably powerful, mature and sensitive voices of the orchestra’s members should be heard by a broader audience. Their experiences of individual conflict, confrontation, and in some cases, inner resolution, afforded a unique insight into the minds and hearts of young people growing up on both sides of a bitter conflict. Elena spent a year interviewing members of the orchestra and writing An Orchestra Beyond Borders.

English Publisher: Verso | Paperback: 280 pages

German Publisher: Edition Elke Heidenreich bei C. Bertelsmann | Hardcover: 352 pages with color photos

Italian Publisher: Feltrinelli | Paperback: 304 pages

Book Reviews

Elena Cheah’s invaluable – and rather inspiring – insider’s book about the West-Eastern Divan project, An Orchestra Beyond Borders (Verso, £10.99), makes it clear that neither the maestro nor his band dreams of swamping divisions of background and outlook in a warm tide of sound. Rather, as Barenboim’s preface puts it, “we do not try to diminish or soften our differences in the orchestra; we do the opposite”.

Boyd Tonkin, The Independent


The stories are extremely moving, perceptive, and illustrative of the intractable “problems” in the Middle East. If only one could bring together more groups like this —to overcome hatred, ignorance, and prejudice —there would be no more wars and killings.

John Green, The Morning Star