Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Barenboim and Said: 'Parallels and Paradoxes'

At first glance, Daniel Barenboim and Edward Said would seem to have little in common. But the two men share a passion: their love of music.

Barenboim, descended from Russian Jews who emigrated to Buenos Aires, is musical director for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Berlin State Opera. He moved with his family to Israel as a child, and has lived in Europe for most of his life.

Said was born in Jerusalem to a Christian Arab family. He spent his childhood in Cairo, and as a teen left to study in the United States.

Now a Columbia University professor of English and comparative literature and a cultural studies scholar, he is a highly respected commentator on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Said is an accomplished pianist as well, and says it was music that drew the two men together following their first meeting in the early 1990s.

Over the past several years the two men have carried on a series of conversations about topics ranging from music to events in the Middle East.

Those conversations, drawn from both public lectures and private encounters caught on tape, are now collected in a new book, Parallels and Paradoxes: Explorations in Music and Society.

NPR's Scott Simon talks with the two men about their intellectual relationship and the role of music in everyday life.

They also talk about a pivotal event in 1999, when Barenboim and Said invited a group of young Arab and Israeli musicians to a workshop in Weimar, Germany.

At that gathering, the young musicians focused on learning and performing the music of Beethoven -- an experience, Said and Barenboim say, that enabled the musicians to transcend their national identities -- and be, first and foremost, musicians.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.