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Next morning, after our midnight visit to Times Square, we were set to leave the hotel at 08:30, but our flight was cancelled!   Cathy, our chaperone from the American Friends, received word from the airport.  We did a quick “about-face” cancelled the tickets and went to Penn Station to take the train to Washington.

When we stepped out of Union Station 4 hours later, we were greeted by a view of the Capitol Building and Washington’s cherry trees in full bloom.  Unfortunately, there was no time for sight-seeing, we were only 2 hours from concert time at the American University; guests of the department for Israeli affairs.

The concert at the Katzen Arts Center was completely full. A question-and-answer period at the end of the concert was moved to the lobby and members of the ensemble were mobbed by concert-goers, each one with an interesting question.  All the issues were on the table, Arab identity, the occupation of the territories, politics of the Middle East and the Palestinian question.  The contact with the audience, in fact, provoked a long, soul-searching dialogue among the ensemble members which continued until 2 in the morning at a 24 hour diner.

We returned to the American University (after nearly losing Alfred, Bishara, Sami and Ramsis at Macy’s) for a noon master-class.   The difference between East and West was demonstrated; instruments, notation, scales and improvisation. The stage was then opened for questions from the students: “How has playing with Eastern musicians affected your playing the orchestra?” “Do we feel that playing together actually has an effect on the people’s understanding of the conflict?”

Undoubtedly, the climax of the 4 days was the evening concert at the home of the Israeli Ambassador.  Ambassador Michael Oren and his wife Sally opened their home for the American Friends and guests.  Among the audience were the ambassadors of Egypt and Sweden and the congressman from Los Angeles.  Even though the Ambassador was exhausted from attending to President Simon Peres during his 3 day trip to Washington, after the concert and dinner, he initiated a “jam” session with the ensemble.  Playing first the “boran”, an Irish drum, and later “the spoons”, Ambassador Oren led the impromptu concert in his den.

Members of the SheshBesh, Yossi, Peter, Saida, Ramsis, Alfred, Bishara and Sami want to thank Cathy, who was our chaperone, Suzanne at AFIPO, Laura at AU, Bill, who provided basses in each city, the people who opened their homes for events; the Patterson’s, Dr. Haseltine, Ambassador Oren; the American Friends who underwrote the tour and all the people who made the trip possible.

With the Middle East once again making headlines, the Arab/Jewish Ensemble, “SheshBesh”, undertook a quick tour of 6 appearances in the United States. The Ensemble, under the auspices of the Israel Philharmonic, was the guest of the orchestra’s American Friends.

Penn Station on the way to Washington

After every concert, we were met by anxious questions about the future of the Middle East… as if anyone has the answers.  “SheshBesh”, is a symbol of stability; we’ve been together for 12 years, and is a bridge between East and West.  Our presence, and the unique combination of Arabs and Jews playing music together, obviously awakened a lot of questions about the future of the Middle East conflict.

The tour started in West Palm Beach, Florida. The IPO appeared here only one month ago with Zubin Mehta,  and the audience was hungry for more!  The American Friends of the IPO organized an open rehearsal at the Morse Life Campus, a retirement community.  After brunch, more than 250 residents and the local media attended the short concert.  The afternoon concert was preparation for the evening concert at one of West Palm Beach’s most beautiful homes; the Patterson residence on  the Atlantic Ocean.

Alfred, Ramsis and Dr. Haseltine

New York was our next destination, and the weather changed from warm and sunny to hazy and cold.  The ensemble had only an hour between checking in at the hotel and leaving to set up for the concert.  Already from our hotel rooms on the East side of Manhattan, we could see the building where the concert would take place; the tallest residential building in the world, the Trump World Tower.

Sami in Manhatten

Playing in the living room of Dr. William Haseltine, at the height of 86 stories, we were surrounded on three sides by incredible views of downtown New York and the East River.  We were treated to an incredible reception by old and new friends: the American Friends of the IPO.  It was just like a family get-together.

Ramsis and Sami had never been to New York and we had such a short time! What was the essential site to see?….Times Square!

Times Square at midnight

From the hotel, we hopped into 2 cabs and joined the tourist for a stroll in through that incredible valley of electric signs and crowds, and, of course, a slice of New York pizza.

The Arab/Jewish Ensemble “SheshBesh” is under the auspices of the Israel Philharmonic. It  was created by the KeyNote Education  Program to promote multi-cultural understanding and is generously supported by the American Friends of the IPO.

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