Breaking News

TransAsia Air Flight Crashed in Taiwan, Official Confirms
Tweet TWEET

Orchestra Braves Iraqi Bombs Before Lloyd Webber Concert

Tap for Slideshow
Photographer: Ian Jacobs/National Youth Orchestra of Iraq via Bloomberg

Members of the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq at the Famous Speigeltent on Edinburgh's George St. Many members face great hardship and sectarian violence to rehearse and perform with the group, which is giving an inspirational run of concerts this summer, supported by the Scottish Government and the British Council.

Close
Photographer: Ian Jacobs/National Youth Orchestra of Iraq via Bloomberg

Members of the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq at the Famous Speigeltent on Edinburgh's George St. Many members face great hardship and sectarian violence to rehearse and perform with the group, which is giving an inspirational run of concerts this summer, supported by the Scottish Government and the British Council. Close

Members of the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq at the Famous Speigeltent on Edinburgh's George St. Many members face... Read More

Photographer: Ian Jacobs/National Youth Orchestra of Iraq

Members of the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq outside the Famous Spiegeltent in Edinburgh, Scotland. Iraq has a shortage of music teachers, so many players are self-taught from YouTube masterclasses. Close

Members of the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq outside the Famous Spiegeltent in Edinburgh, Scotland. Iraq has a... Read More

Photographer: Ian Jacobs/National Youth Orchestra of Iraq via Bloomberg

Fiona Hyslop, Minister for Culture and External affairs in Scotland, with some of the members of the orchestra in Edinburgh. The ensemble plays works by an Arab and a Kurdish composer in every program. Close

Fiona Hyslop, Minister for Culture and External affairs in Scotland, with some of the members of the orchestra in... Read More

Source: National Youth Orchestra of Iraq via Bloomberg

The National Youth Orchestra of Iraq. The ensemble, which contains both Arabs and Kurds, was founded four years ago by 17 year old pianist and student activist Zuhal Sultan. Close

The National Youth Orchestra of Iraq. The ensemble, which contains both Arabs and Kurds, was founded four years ago... Read More

Photographer: Simon Fowler/Karen Pitchford PR via Bloomberg

Cellist Julian Lloyd Webber, who will be appearing at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London with the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq. A passionate supporter of social projects based on orchestral playing, Lloyd Webber will play Faure’s `Elegie'' with the ensemble. Close

Cellist Julian Lloyd Webber, who will be appearing at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London with the National Youth... Read More

Source: www.paulmacalindin.com via Bloomberg

Paul MacAlindin, conductor of the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq. The Cologne-based leader has been in charge of the orchestra, which meets for just two weeks a year, for four years. Close

Paul MacAlindin, conductor of the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq. The Cologne-based leader has been in charge of... Read More

Meet the bravest orchestra in the world. The superlative seems justified for the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq.

When the musicians are at home, they play quietly to avoid upsetting fundamentalists opposed to western music. They have to hide their instruments so they don’t get smashed. Rehearsals have been disrupted by car bombings and power cuts. They face sectarian prejudice against a group including both Arabs and Kurds, men and women.

The self-taught players are facing the challenge of a foreign tour, reaching London on Aug. 28 after a two-week stay in Scotland. As well as works by Iraqi composers, they’ll be performing Schubert’s “Tragic” Symphony and Faure’s “Elegie” with star guest Julian Lloyd Webber.

I meet up with the 61-year-old cellist in London’s Kensington. He’s just emerged blinking from a long solo practice session in his studio, and looks tired and happy in a rumpled linen jacket.

“I do a lot of work with the Edinburgh Youth Orchestra, who are working with the Iraqis in Scotland,” he says. “When they asked me a few years ago about this concert, I knew immediately I’d love to do it. It just shows that music can be an amazing way of bringing people together, even people who’ve suffered appallingly.”

I mention Daniel Barenboim’s groundbreaking West-Eastern Divan Orchestra as a model.

Competitive Players

“You see it all the time,” he says. “When young players come to work together in an orchestra, they realize that the whole is greater than them as individuals. They lose the competitive thing, the animosity.”

The orchestra was founded four years ago by pianist Zuhal Sultan, who was then 17 years old. With the help of the British Council, she recruited Cologne-based Scottish conductor Paul MacAlindin.

Each year the participants send in audition clips via YouTube, and then meet to rehearse.

“The students are so keen to learn,” MacAlindin says. “When they meet a real-life teacher, you can see their sheer hunger. The British tutors all say that they can only dream about getting students who are so motivated.”

MacAlindin tells me how he encountered conflict between the Arabs and Kurds.

“In the first week there was a lot of suspicion. Then the ice broke, and they realized they had to work together.”

Iraq Sanctions

Their concerts in Edinburgh and Glasgow are supported by the Scottish government, which used 1.5 million pounds of a 13.9 million pound confiscation order against the Weir Group Plc. (WEIR) engineering company for breaching United Nations sanctions against Iraq.

Lloyd Webber is also chairman of the “In Harmony Sistema England” project, based on the Venezuelan organization promoting orchestral playing.

“In Liverpool we encouraged a whole school, including the chef and caretakers, to play together,” he says. “After the first year literacy and maths results had improved dramatically. Music really has a power to change people.”

He says Faure’s “Elegie” “expresses how I feel about what’s happened in Iraq. We can never forget that a lot of people have lost their lives on all sides of the conflict.”

Julian Lloyd Webber performs with the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq on Aug. 28 at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. Information: http://www.southbankcentre.co.uk and http://www.musicians4harmony.org/nyoi.html.

Before that, there are two concerts in Scotland: Aug. 25 at the Royal Conservatoire, Glasgow (http://www.rcs.ac.uk), and Aug. 26 at Greyfriars Kirk, Edinburgh as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival (http://www.greyfriarskirk.com)

Muse highlights include Zinta Lundborg’s New York weekend and Lewis Lapham on history.

(Warwick Thompson is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

To contact the writer on this story: Warwick Thompson, in Edinburgh, at warwicktho@aol.com.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

Bloomberg reserves the right to remove comments but is under no obligation to do so, or to explain individual moderation decisions.

Please enable JavaScript to view the comments powered by Disqus.