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."

 

Trump accuses Assad of committing 'horrible' crimes

Rival Libyan leaders agree to ceasefire, elections

Egypt creates 'national council' to fight 'terror'

Battle on Lebanon-Syria border proves difficult for Hezbollah fighters

UN says majority of Yemen children in need of immediate aid

Subdued atmosphere in Jerusalem's Old City

Britain lifts Tunisia travel warning

Police in Cairo kill 4 suspected in mid-July attack

Bahrain charges 60 in mass trial

Erdogan says Israeli removal of holy site metal detectors not enough

Tripoli asks Italy to send ships in fight against traffickers

Egyptian state seizes land from ‘squatters’

Jerusalem standoff continues over 'advanced' cameras

Syrian civilians turn to smugglers to flee Raqa fighting

Clashes erupt in Eastern Ghouta despite Syria truce deal

Isolated Qatar criticises new Saudi bloc blacklist

Top EU court keeps Hamas on terror list

Iran’s deputy FM: US sanctions vote 'hostile'

Two Moroccan UN peacekeepers killed in C. Africa attack

Palestinians demand removal of Jerusalem 'security' measures

Key challenges in Libya's chaos

Where Afghanistan is heading and what it means for the Arab Gulf

Saudi raises $4.53 bln in oversubscribed bond issue

Jordanian mourners chant 'death to Israel'

14 Saudis face ‘imminent’ unfair execution says Amnesty

Rival Libyan leaders hold talks in France

Amnesty International urges EU to 'reset' Turkey relations

Erdogan urges Muslims to ‘protect’ Jerusalem

US sanctions protecting Iranian tech sector

Air strike kills civilians in Syria despite truce

278 Europe-bound migrants rescued off Libya

Beirut, the upcoming start-up hub in MENA region

Trump says Syrian rebel aid program was 'dangerous and wasteful'

Israel dismantles metal detectors from holy site

Saudi, allies unveil Qatar 'terrorist' blacklist

Cardinal hails 'rebirth' of Iraqi Christian town

Top UN delegation visits crisis-hit Yemen

Trump aide due in Israel to ease holy site tensions

Libya’s coastguard rescues 150 Europe-bound migrants

EU warns Turkey economy at risk in Germany row

Saudi crown prince takes temporary charge

Israel strikes Gaza after missile across border

Hezbollah says fight on Syria border ‘nearing end’

Staff of Turkey opposition paper stand trial

Tehran’s judiciary chief accuses US of jailing innocent Iranians