The orchestra comprises young Israeli, Palestinian, Lebanese, Syrian, Jordanian and Egyptian musicians. Barenboim, who is himself Israeli, and his close friend Edward Said, the late Palestinian scholar, founded the group to promote cultural dialogue between Israelis and Arabs. He called the Divan Orchestra "clearly" the most important musical project of his life.
"Can you imagine that?" Barenboim told the German newspaper. "The Waldb‹hne was built by Hitler. The music is Wagner. Played by us! Hitler and Wagner would turn in their graves."
The conductor's musical activities caused a stir in 2001 when he led the Berlin Staatskapelle at the Israel Festival in Jerusalem. Barenboim initially programmed the first act of Die Walk‹re; however, under pressure from authorities, he swapped the work with Schumann's Symphony No. 4 and Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring. Speaking to the audience after the scheduled program, he asked if he could perform the Prelude from Wagner's Tristan und Isolde. Most applauded, some shouted "fascist" and "go home"; reportedly, some 50 concertgoers walked out while 1000 stayed.
"With Wagner it is never about the politics or Wagner the person, but about his great music," said Barenboim.
He also told the German newspaper that the Divan Orchestra has already played Die Walk‹re and that its Israeli musicians chose the work for the "pure instrumental" reason that the brass section is featured prominently.