About this project
Founded in 2009 by 17-year-old Zuhal Sultan, a pianist in Baghdad, the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq is a group of 44 young musicians from across the country who overcome seemingly insurmountable barriers to make music together.
That the orchestra exists at all is astounding. Despite the lack of infrastructure and shortage of music teachers, musicians throughout Iraq have been recruited and auditioned each year via YouTube. In this short time, against all odds, the orchestra has gone from strength to strength.
Each year, the young Iraqi musicians gather for an annual summer camp where they receive their only musical instruction for the year from carefully selected international tutors. This three-week educational event culminates in a concert and to date, the orchestra has been invited to perform at the Beethovenfest in Bonn, Edinbugh Festival Fringe, London’s Queen Elisabeth Hall and Grand Theatre de Provence in France. These hugely successful concerts, attended by ambassadors, dignitaries and concert-goes alike, have been met with media approval and earned the orchestra well-deserved standing ovations.
"It's vital that the orchestra gets out of Iraq and performs abroad so that they can relearn normality and take that back home with them to rebuild their culture." Music Director Paul MacAlindin, TEDx Koeln
This summer, the NYOI joins the Elgin Youth Symphony Orchestra for three weeks of study in Illinois, followed by performances in Elgin, Chicago, and Washington, DC. The histories of America and Iraq are now deeply intertwined, though media distortion has ensured that each people has little idea of the other. Collaboration with players and tutors of the Elgin Youth Symphony Orchestra, performing to American audiences and telling stories through music, is NYOI's effort to reach out to young Americans and share cultures.
Led by Music Director Paul MacAlindin, NYOI will perform Samuel Barber's Violin Concerto (featuring Angelia Cho, violin), Beethoven's Symphony No. 7, and two new works – one by Arab composer Amir ElSaffar and another by Kurdish composer Abdullah Jamal Sagirma. Unifying many different traditions of music and performance, NYOI offers another much-needed example of collaboration and harmony.
"This is how I imagined the orchestra to be – for them to break all the barriers before them and communicate through music." Zuhal Sultan
Follow the #NYOIraq story on Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook. Watch and listen on YouTube and SoundCloud.
Contributions to the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq are processed through the Friends of the British Council USA, a 501(c)(3) organization, and are tax-deductible.
Risks and challenges
There is always risk with projects that have the capacity to do a great deal of good.
The biggest challenge for the musicians of the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq is being an Iraqi musician at all, which represents a very real danger in the lives of these artists. But the orchestra has broken through new barriers each year, successfully securing the visas, funding, and management required to perform and grow together.
Many of those challenges for this year's tour have already been solved, through in-kind support from the Elgin Youth Symphony Orchestra, the Arts Center at Elgin Community College, Northern Illinois University, and a number of businesses, individuals, and foundations in the U.S. Though the total cost of this year's tour is more than $400,000, another $40,000 is needed for insurance, travel, and accommodations.
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