Although we learn from his memoirs that Edward Said renounced his thoughts of a career as a concert pianist in his late teens, music remained a lifelong passion. For many years opera critic for The Nation and author of numerous articles on musical theory as well as a book, Musical Elaborations, he gave informal concerts until the last decade of his life and played until the very end. Said’s intense intellectual engagement with music, and his particular interest in “performance,” laid the ground for his close friendship over more than a decade with Daniel Barenboim. Born in Argentina and raised in Israel, Barenboim is one of the leading concert pianists and conductors of the second half of the twentieth century. He is currently music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (since 1991) and of the Deutsche Staatsoper Berlin (since 1992). The two men were united by a common humanistic vision and a mutual optimism in the face of an increasingly depressing world, mediated by the caustic wit and playful sense of humor that they shared, as well as by their abiding love of music. Together Said and Barenboim in 1999 founded the West-Eastern Divan, an annual summer workshop for young Arab and Israeli musicians. In doing so, they managed to overcome daunting human and bureaucratic barriers, enabling gifted young musicians from both sides of a widening political divide to benefit from master classes taught by some of the most accomplished performers and musicians of their era, and to meet and learn from one another in ways that would otherwise have been unthinkable. A book of conversations between Edward Said and Daniel Barenboim about music, culture, and politics, Parallels and Paradoxes: Explorations in Music and Society, was published in 2002. They were working on another book at the time of Said’s death.
Rashid Khalidi, Edward Said Chair of Arab studies at Columbia University and the editor of JPS, interviewed Daniel Barenboim in Chicago in October 2003.