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.
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.
You can find out more by clicking on the video below, and contribute on the orchestra’s Kickstarter page.