I write this as the Rio Olympics come to an end. Even those of us who are not sport-minded can take pleasure in watching people doing difficult things well after long years spent in patient practice. Similarly, Mike and I went to this year’s Promenade concerts, where again people do wonderful things after years of practice. The concert we were particularly pleased to get to was Prom 43 – Daniel Barenboim and the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra (a ‘divan’ as well as a kind of bed is also an Arabic word for a meeting-place). This very special orchestra was formed in 1999 by Barenboim and the late philosopher Edward Said, and the nucleus of its members is an equal number of Israeli and Arab musicians. It has now performed to a high standard in most European countries, the Americas and the Middle East, including in Ramallah, Palestine.
The Royal Albert Hall was packed - we only got tickets after laying siege to the box office for an hour and a half for returns. The programme began with Liszt’s first piano concerto, in which the soloist was Martha Argerich, of whom, to my shame, I had never heard. She was a beautiful, expressive player, who made the piano sing. And as a real treat, she and Barenboim, who had played together as children in Buenos Aires and whose combined ages are 148, gave us Schubert’s Rondo in A major duet as an encore. The Telegraph music critic called it ‘a dazzling retort to ageism’, just as the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra is a dazzling retort to the conflict between Israel and Palestine.