The Palestine Strings, a group of young musicians formed in 2009 and based at the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music (ESNCM) in Jerusalem, will be playing alongside top violinist Nigel Kennedy at the Proms in August.
The ESNCM is Palestine’s national training and performance center for classical music and, as well as its recently-opened headquarters in Jerusalem, has facilities in Ramallah, Nablus and Bethlehem. It provides a home for the Palestine National Orchestra, as well as several youth orchestras and specialist musical groups.
Palestine Strings has previously toured the USA, alongside folk dance group Danadeesh. The Proms show is, however, their highest-profile performance to date. Founded in 1895, the BBC Proms is one of the world’s largest and best-known classical music festivals, incorporating more than 100 events over six weeks, most of them at London’s historic Royal Albert Hall.
Kennedy refuses to play in Israel
Nigel Kennedy is also one of the world’s best-known violinists. He has been a long-term supporter of the cultural boycott of Israel, telling the Israeli newspaper Haaretz in 2007 that: “I was really shocked when I saw the wall here. It’s a new type of apartheid, barbaric behavior. How can you impose collective punishment and divide people from one another? We are all residents of the same planet. I would think that the world learned something from South Africa. And the world should boycott a nation that didn’t learn. That’s why I won’t perform in your country.” He has, however, performed at the Palestinian-run Jerusalem Festival in East Jerusalem.
Palestinian musicians have performed at the Proms before, notably as part of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, set up in 1999 by Edward Said and Argentine-Israeli conductor Daniel Barenboim and “composed of musicians from Israel, Palestine, and other Arab countries.”
Despite its early association with Said, the West-Eastern Divan has been criticized by boycott activists such as PACBI, who believe that its “self-definition turns occupation and colonial oppression into a mere ‘problem’ or ‘barrier’ to be discussed between ‘traditional rivals’ who hope to settle their ‘differences’” and therefore promotes a “false symmetry [and] normalization.” The claims were fiercely denied by Mariam Said on The Electronic Intifada in 2010.