First Published: 2003-06-12

 
Baghdad orchestra struggling to survive
 

First symphony orchestra in Arab world still willing to perform before public despite facing uncertain future.

 

Middle East Online

By Marc Carnegie - BAGHDAD

We're trying to show the world that Iraqis have a great culture

For Hisham Sharaf, the director of the Baghdad Symphony Orchestra, their first performance after the war will not be about the beauty of music.

It's about showing that Iraqis are doing more than just robbing and pillaging in the aftermath of Saddam Husseins ouster.

"We're trying to show the world that Iraqis have a great culture," he said, paying only fleeting attention as the musicians ran through Mozart's Symphony No. 40.

"We were the first symphony orchestra in the Arab world. This has been difficult for us. We've never had anything to do with politics."

But politics have had plenty to do with the orchestra in the chaotic weeks since the US-led war to bring down Saddam.

Sharaf's house was bombed in the wars final days, injuring his finger and leaving him incapable of playing his beloved clarinet.

Majid al-Ghazali, a violinist, was jailed by Saddam's secret service during the war after he invited a US journalist to his home.

And after a local journalist used the new freedom of the press to accuse him of pandering to US forces, Sharaf found himself fearing an attack from Islamic hardliners.

"We never played specially for Saddam and of course were not playing now for the Americans. We play for anyone who wants to come and hear us," he said. "This is music."

The long-suffering musicians of the orchestra, preparing for their first post-Saddam concert in July, are now facing an uncertain and difficult future.

Sharaf has cut rehearsals to just four hours a week, scheduled at early hours so that the players can get home early enough to avoid the risk of being robbed or attacked.

Apart from a 20-dollar emergency payment the US occupation government gave to all civil servants, they have not been paid since before the war.

"I came to the orchestra and I have stayed with it out of love," said Annie Melconian, a 24-year-old second violinist.

"But things are difficult. My father brings me here and stays to drive me home because of the danger on the streets," she said.

"I have so many dreams for the orchestra, yet nobody knows what will happen next."

Ghazali said that one major fear among the players is that whatever government is eventually put in place in post-war Iraq may not be supportive of classical music.

That fear was deepened when Piero Cordone, the Italian appointed by the US-led coalition as its senior advisor to Iraq's culture ministry, failed to show last week for a meeting to discuss their salaries.

"It was like getting hit on the head with a pipe," Ghazali said of Cordone's no-show. "We need someone to support us. There are great musicians here. We need help."

Sharaf, the director, said everyone was stuck waiting to see when the coalition would be able to establish security and order in the post-war disarray.

"There's so much uncertainty for us. No money, worries about whether the Islamists will crack down on our music, everyone wondering when there will be a government," he said.

In addition to traditional Iraqi folk songs, the orchestras first concert will feature Mozarts 40th - whose rising opening statement is known as a "rocket" theme.

Sharaf wouldn't say if there was any wry statement in that choice of music. He said what really mattered was simply to get out before the public and play.

"All we can do is keep performing our music and hope for the best," he said. "This is our lives."

 

Three senior Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades commanders killed in Gaza

Obama demands world action against jihadist ‘cancer’

Kuwait nabs suspected Al-Nusra Front financier

German minister accuses Qatar of financing IS

British jihadists on forefront on IS propaganda

Hamas armed wing declares end to truce talks in Cairo

Tribal clashes kill dozens of people in troubled Darfur

Dubai real estate giant to repay debt four years ahead

Egypt hopes power cuts could ease next week

Jihadist beheading of US journalist sparks worldwide revulsion

Iran provides ‘advice’ to Kurds fighting IS jihadists in Iraq

Power cuts and petrol shortages: Life grows increasingly difficult in Libya

Suspected attack by Kurdish rebels kills one Turkish soldier

UN launches huge aid operation in northern Iraq

Israel pounds Gaza as mourners cry ‘revenge’

Outgoing first lady breaks silence on ‘falsehoods’ against Turkey President

Ex CIA boss: journalist's killing 'first IS terrorist attack against US

Scores of armed Yemen rebels boost positions in capital

Sinai jihadists punish supporters of Egypt army with decapitation

Germany ready to support Iraq Kurds in battle against ‘barbaric’ IS

Iran’s 'reformist' science minister sacked

Turkey assures Ocalan Kurdish peace process will press ahead

Hollande: international situation ‘most serious’ since 2001

Israeli minister: ‘Deif deserves to die’

US hits back at criticism of Ferguson racial unrest

Jihadists to US: stop air strikes or we will behead second reporter

Temporary Gaza ceasefire goes up in smoke

Islamic State in Syria: Not few brainwashed people but whole army

Egypt to US: Show us how you deal with unrest in Ferguson

Turkey seeks to revive peace talks with Iraq Kurdish rebels

Tit-for-tat attacks break Gaza ceasefire

Huthi rebels cook up ‘armed coup’ in Yemen capital

Flood of weapons in South Sudan: Who’s not to blame?

After morale boosting victory, Iraq forces intensify attacks on IS

Multi-national Arab Bank on trial for supporting terror

Violence-hit Libya gradually boosting oil output

Abbas takes Israel’s report of Hamas coup plot seriously

Saudi Grand Mufti blasts Islamic State as 'enemy No 1' of Islam

Iraqi kurd fighters cannot remember any wars quite like one against IS

Turkey detains more police officers in new eavesdropping probe raid

Lebanon's Hezbollah kills top jihadist in Syria

UN to provide massive aid for 500,000 Iraqis

Iraqi troops launch major operation to retake Tikrit

Abbas to hold talks with emir of Qatar

Kurdish protester shot dead in Turkey clashes