‘World's bravest orchestra’ to visit US for the first time




National Youth Orchestra of Iraq to be hosted by Elgin Youth Symphony Orchestra
Courtesy of EYSO

In 2009, the 17-year-old Iraqi pianist Zuhal Sultan realized a dream to unite the youth of her country. Her vision involved bringing together young Kurds and Arabs by offering a program of peace through music. Thus the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq (NYOI) was born. Every year the orchestra holds auditions via YouTube and selects 43 musicians between the ages of 18 and 29 who join together to overcome ethnic, religious, language, and gender barriers, forming against all odds this unique and vibrant orchestra.

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This summer the Elgin Youth Symphony Orchestra (EYSO)--which has its offices at the Church of the Brethren General Offices in Elgin, Ill.--will act as NYOI's hosts for an intensive three-week music course, the most important instruction in orchestral playing and instrumental techniques that these Iraqi players will receive all year. The NYOI, supported by musicians from the EYSO, will perform public concerts in Elgin, Washington, D.C., New York, and Chicago, reaching communities of artists, Iraqis, diplomats, and peacemakers.

By traveling abroad, not only do the musicians find a safe place to study and perform together, but they also learn the skills needed to rebuild the artistic landscape back home. Iraq is still a very unstable, dangerous place and there is little infrastructure, public or private, to nurture something like this orchestra. Music director Paul MacAlindin has always known that a wider international visibility and the support of global patrons would be necessary to ensure its viability.

Since 2009, NYOI has performed to sold-out audiences in Germany, France, and the UK. Now it is time to bring these courageous young musicians--many of whom participate at significant personal risk--to the US to expand the reach of their message and give Americans the opportunity to support them.

“The 2014 visit is founded on the successful experiences and lessons learnt from previous years, and we know we can create great concerts, relationships, and publicity for everyone,”  said Paul MacAlindin, music director. “Moreover, this project is part of a deeper viral strategy to learn best practice in America and spread it throughout Iraq. The National Youth Orchestra of Iraq is a series of concerts, but more than that, it is the public face of young Iraqis, determined to show themselves in the best possible light to America and the world. As previous years have shown, the American tour will change their lives, and the lives of everyone connected to the visit.”

Concerts to be performed in Elgin

The NYOI will cap three weeks of intensive study in the US with two collaborative concerts with the EYSO at the Elgin Community College Arts Center on the college campus at 1700 Spartan Dr., Elgin, Ill. Dates for the concerts are Saturday, Aug. 16, and Sunday, Aug. 17, at 7:30 p.m. Works to be performed include Samuel Barber's Violin Concerto with soloist Angelia Cho, Beethoven's Seventh Symphony, and two new commissions by Iraqi composers Amir ElSaffar and Abdullah Jamal Sagirma. Tickets are $25 ($20 for students with ID and seniors age 65-plus). VIP tickets are $35 and include a meet and greet with the NYOI and EYSO artists following the performances. Tickets go on sale June 16. For tickets or more information call 847-622-0300 or visit tickets.elgin.edu .

These concerts are made possible with support from the following collaborating organizations: National Youth Orchestra of Iraq, Elgin Youth Symphony Orchestra, Northern Illinois University, Elgin Community College Arts Center, the Iraq Foundation, the US Embassy, and the Iraqi Ministry of Culture.

The Elgin Youth Symphony Orchestra, under the artistic direction of Randal Swiggum, is an in-residence ensemble in the Arts Center at Elgin Community College and is home to five orchestras and a brass choir with 350 students from more than 60 communities. Founded in 1976, the mission of the EYSO is to create a community of young musicians, enriching their lives and the lives of their families, schools, communities, and beyond, through the study and performance of excellent music.

Learn more at EYSO.org/NYOIraq and support the tour at kck.st/QKiVOy .

-- Rachel Elizabeth Maley of the EYSO contributed this report.

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