Paul McAlindin looks back at the extraordinary achievements of the young Iraqis who came together to make music in their war-torn country and asks what future they have.
'The great adventure of the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq deserves not only to be recorded for posterity but also to serve as an example of how the essential can survive catastrophe.' - Sir Peter Maxwell Davies.
Musician and conductor Paul MacAlindin was eating fish and chips in an Edinburgh cafe in 2008 when he first read the story in the Herald newspaper - "Iraqi teen seeks Maestro". That Iraqi teen was the astonishing Zuhal Sultan, a pianist who dreamed up the idea of a National Youth Orchestra of Iraq aged only 17.
Paul was intrigued.
Barely out of war, with no discernible orchestral tradition that he knew of, what could there be to work with? What instruments did they even have? How could it be that we in the West had heard so much about war and bloodshed in Iraq, but knew so little of who the Iraqis really were?
Fixated on the article, fish trembling at the end of his fork, Paul simply said to himself, "I know how to do this."
The following year, after auditions via Skype, a promise of a bespoke piece from the late Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, favours called in, massive logistical complexities and financial hiccups, they ran their first summer school. And so the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq was born.
In a few short years this group of young musicians came through the most difficult and dangerous times to produce fine music, not only in Iraq
Read by Kenny Blyth
Written by Paul MacAlindin
Directed and Abridged by Polly Coles
Produced by Clive Brill
A Brill production for BBC Radio 4.
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