Many watching the Olympic opening ceremony in London may have wondered why a classical musician and conductor was one of the eight people chosen to carry the Olympic flag. But music lovers would understand why Daniel Barenboim was honoured as a humanitarian who brings, in the words of the stadium announcement, harmony in place of discord. Appropriately, Barenboim had just completed a week-long residency at the popular BBC Proms with his West-Eastern Divan Orchestra. It’s composed of young musicians from the Middle East with the aim of crossing the political divides of the region. Daniel Barenboim, one of the outstanding musical figures of our time, was born in Buenos Aires in 1942 to parents of Russian-Jewish descent. He began piano lessons at the age of five and gave his first official concert in Buenos Aires when he was seven. Following his debut in Vienna and Rome in 1952, Barenboim was to become known as one of the most versatile pianists of his generation. As a chamber musician, he performed most frequently with violinists Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zukerman and his wife, cellist Jacqueline du Pre whose sudden illness and premature death made theirs one of the most romantic and tragic stories of their time. From the mid-1960s, Barenboim began to devote more time to conducting. From 1975 to 1989 he was chief conductor of the Orchestre de Paris, but his 1981 debut at the Bayreuth Festival led to 18 consecutive summers of conducting Wagner a musical decision that saw him criticised for political reasons. But Barenboims determination to use music to find harmony, not discord, is most evident in Divan. In 1999, together with the late Palestinian-born writer and Columbia University professor Edward Said, Barenboim founded the West-Eastern Divan workshop and orchestra, bringing together talented young musicians from Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Tunisia and Israel to make music under the guidance of some of the worlds finest musicians. The workshop seeks to enable dialogue between the various cultures of the Middle East and promote the experience of playing music together. In summer 2005, the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra presented a concert of historic significance in the Palestinian city of Ramallah, while musicians of the Berlin Staatskapelle have participated as teachers in this project since its inception. Barenboim also initiated a project for music education in the Palestinian territories, which includes a music kindergarten as well as a youth orchestra. For his efforts towards reconciliation in the Middle East as well as his musical achievements, Barenboim has been the recipient of many prizes and honours. Barenboim said it was “purely coincidental” that his West-Eastern Divan Orchestra’s performances of the nine Beethoven symphonies in one week at the BBC Proms summer festival ended with a performance on the night of the Games opening ceremony. But speaking at a news conference he said: “The feeling that Beethoven has given to me is that his music fights against this human weakness of trying to believe that what is good we wish we could keep it forever, and what is bad will never go away.