17-Year Old Pianist Zuhal Sultan Forms First-Ever NATIONAL YOUTH ORCHESTRA OF IRAQ
A Promising New Beginning for Young Musicians in the Conflict Zone; August Debut is Planned for Northern Kurdish Region
Visionary Project Gains Support of British Council, Iraqi Government and Charities Making Music & Musicians For Harmony
17-year-old Iraqi piano prodigy Zuhal Sultan has confirmed plans for the first-ever NATIONAL YOUTH ORCHESTRA OF IRAQ. Her ambitious program will debut in August 2009 in the northern Kurdish region, and will feature performances by a 35-piece orchestra comprised of Iraq’s most promising young classical musicians.
The NYOI is a clear sign that Iraq’s cultural landscape is alive and well, and that there are young artists eager to be heard amid the backdrop of conflict.
Zuhal Sultan’s goal is to establish a haven for the next generation of Iraqi musicians, and she is well on her way. Zuhal has already become the focus of international media attention, and her extraordinary personal journey was recently chronicled by The London Times.
As their August launch draws near, NYOI is actively seeking financial support via the grassroots fundraising site http://www.justgiving.com/nyoiraq. Any donation, large or small, will make a difference as these young people embark on their brave road of cultural diplomacy. Their August debut program is expected to include orchestral works by Beethoven and Haydn; a commissioned piece by NYOI's composer-in-residence, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies; and new pieces by Iraqi Kurdish and Arab composers. Also in the works is a possible performance of Gershwin by NYOI's own Artistic Director and Founder, Zuhal Sultan.
In addition to supporting their debut concerts in August, NYOI seeks funds to bring professional music instructors from around the world to Iraq to establish an NYOI Summer School program. Aid is also needed to support plans for their first-ever tour. More about Zuhal Sultan:
In the chaos that descended on her native Baghdad as the war began in 2003, Zuhal experienced little in the way of a normal childhood. The once prestigious Baghdad Music and Ballet School, where she was a scholarship student, was on the brink of collapse, as most of the teachers fled the country. Zuhal recalls that just being seen on the streets of Baghdad with an instrument case became dangerous, as it was viewed as a sign of wealth and Western cultural values. Yet even in the absence of professional instructors, and in the face of extraordinary adversity, Zuhal and her fellow students managed to keep the school open, and teach themselves.
Zuhal has already assembled a formidable support system for the inaugural year of NYOI, with backing in place from The British Council in Iraq, Iraqi’s Deputy Prime Minister, Barhem Salih, the UK-based charity Making Music, the U.S.-based non-profit Musicians For Harmony, and Scottish conductor Paul MacAlindin.
Zuhal describes her ambition in terms that reach beyond the establishment of an orchestra. She said: “I want to unite young Iraqis from all over the country, who come from different ethnic and religious backgrounds and who have been separated from one another by the conflict. Through the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq, I want to encourage our young people to establish a dialogue with one another in music, to realize that we have it within ourselves to be strong and creative and, most importantly, to celebrate our identity as Iraqi musicians together.”
NYOI’s Music Director Paul MacAlindin comments: “Dedicated, talented and brave, these young musicians are one step away from sending a joyful, creative message that the healing of Iraq is in good hands. Zuhal belongs to a new generation of gifted, inspiring leaders who have a passionate, giant vision, with the skills and the world view to make it happen.”
Several UK stars have already lent their support. Julian Lloyd Webber – cellist superstar and brother of Andrew – described NYOI as “A fantastic project...” And renowned composer and Master of the Queen’s Music Sir Peter Maxwell Davies said: “This youth orchestra is one of the most remarkable things I have ever heard of, and I am proud to be its composer-in-residence.”
About Musicians For Harmony: The underlying mission of Musicians For Harmony is to promote peace and cultural exchange through music. Allegra Klein's organization, founded shortly after September 11, 2001, has earned significant and growing attention for its charitable efforts in the years since. Each fall, they present a concert in New York City featuring internationally renowned classical and world music artists. With regards to Iraq, here is a re-cap of MFH's recent efforts:
- Musicians For Harmony first raised money for the Iraqi National Symphony Orchestra more than five years ago, and their cultural diplomacy efforts continued with Klein's trips to Iraq in 2003 and 2007.
- While in Iraq, Klein met the young pianist Zuhal Sultan, who helped Musicians For Harmony start their landmark Mentorship Program (see more information, below). Zuhal became MFH's Global Youth Ambassador, and made her solo dbut with the Iraqi National Symphony Orchestra with the help of Prof. Rieko Aizawa, the concert pianist and teacher whom she met through MFH's Mentorship Program.
- Musicians For Harmony's successful and visionary Mentorship Program, recently referenced in The Wall Street Journal, is a landmark initiative, marking the first time that American musicians are teaching Iraqi music students via webcam/Skype.
Visit the NATIONAL YOUTH ORCHESTRA OF IRAQ’S fundraising page at justgiving.com/nyoiraq, or visit makingmusic.org.uk/nyoi to learn more.