Wednesday, December 13, 2006

INSO E-Newsletter: Episode 13

Bi-Monthly Newsletter
Of the
IRAQI National Symphony Orchestra (INSO)
Episode 13 
January 2003
Distributed by Al-Wafaa News Website:

(*_*) (*_*) (*_*) (*_*) (*_*)

In this episode:

1. News & Announcements
2. NY Times Article on INSO Performance in Baghdad
3. Letter to the NY Times' Editor by Munir Allahwardi
4. Letter to the NY Times' Editor by Wafaa' Al-Natheema
5. A Report From Musicians Trying to Visit IRAQ
6. How to Become a Subscriber of This INSO Email Bimonthly Episodes


Important note: It is strongly recommended to read the letter to the editor by Munir Allahwerdi to recognize the errors made in the NY Times article. Only the parts related to the INSO areincluded in this episode. Whenever some paragraphs are omitted, you will see six vertical dots on the left edge of this page. To read the entire article and to see the photos, visit the website at the bottom of the article below.

The Next Issue will be emailed in the end of March. Subscribers are welcome to send their news and announcements by March 15. No reminder will be sent, so please remember to send us your news and announcements by the due date above.

1. NEWS & Announcements:

* Mesto will give a special Sunday Concert on March 2, 2003, at 4:00 p.m. at West Los Angeles College in California. Nabil Azzam will conduct the 40-piece orchestra in a program that will include compositions representing different musical cultures. Mesto gave its debut concert on March 11, 2000. The repertoire of Mesto has grown fast to include today over 50 compositions. Some of the pieces were composed by the orchestra members. (For more details on the Mesto please visit our site at

Munir Allahwerdi, clarinetist and member of the INSO writing/editting team, and his fellow players in Vienna, have been requested to repeat the concert, St. Salvator Kirche, which they gave in Vienna last October 22, 2002. The repeated concert, which will feature Brahms' Clarinet Quintet again in h-moll op.115, will be held at the Residence of Dip.Ing. Fritz Schueller on 22 February 2003.
2. NY Times' Article on INSO Performance in Baghdad on December 25, 2002

"In Baghdad, There's Little Romance in Music by Candlelight"December 26, 2002

Iraq, Dec. 25 - The musicians of the Iraqi National Symphony Orchestra, elegant in black tie or long black skirts, were just settling into their places on the final night of their Christmas week concerts when the electricity failed and the performance hall was plunged into darkness. For a while afterward, the performance unrolled with a dreamlike quality. A note from the oboe floated through the pitch black, guiding the players tuning their instruments,until candles affixed to the music stands illuminated their scores. The musicians played an initial overture and then the tenor soloist, Emad Jamil, sang the Agnus Dei fromBizet's "L'Arlésienne." But with each turn of the sheet music, the players grew increasingly nervous about the risk of igniting the barely legible pages. So they stopped before the final Bach piano concerto. "We might as well have been playing in Bach's time," Mr. Jamil later joked ruefully. "But at least I could forget myself in the music. For a short period of time there was nothing but music. It's very hard living with the thought that soon we will have another war."

Baghdad used to pride itself as the living soul of "1,001 Nights," a cosmopolitan place where sophisticated music, theater or cabaret acts spun on long into the night, and where the Iraqi middle class kept every publisher in the Arab world afloat. Since the beginning of the eight-year Iran-Iraq war in 1980, however, Iraqis have ricocheted from one crisis to the next. The once thriving middle class has been groping through an especially long dark night of plunging living standards since economic sanctions were imposed after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990. Now they find themselves bracing for yet another conflagration in which they have little voice. In response, they cling to what normalcy they can, defiant one minute and utterly gloomy the next. "In life, sorrow tends to last just a little longer than joy," said Abdul Razak al-Alawi, who helped found the orchestra in 1950 and has been its conductor since 1974. His son and daughter, elementary school students, died in 1985 when their home took a direct hit from an Iranian missile. "So we try to just touch the joy to alleviate the sorrow."Most Iraqis seek any brief escape, although even the jokes tend to swirl around their desperation. Audiences have been packing the National Theater every night for a show called "Vagabonds," which gently mocks Iraqis for having become a nation of beggars.
"Imagine the difficulty of making people laugh after 20 years of war and 12 years of sanctions," says Abed Ali Qaed, the show's writer and director, weighing in with his own twist on an oft-heard political remark, "The conspiracy against our people by the Zionists and the Americans is to kill our ability to laugh." Iraqis sense they are caught in a twilight zone. The Draconian sanctions imposed in 1990 were alleviated somewhat by an oil-for-food program started in 1996, but virtually everything the country wants to buy must be approved by the United Nations. When the last two passengers holding up a plane from Amman to Baghdad were stopped at security, the officer rummaging endlessly through their bags asked the airline agent, "Are they journalists?" "Of course, they are journalists," the agent shot back."Who else would want to go to Baghdad?"
The story of Iraq's lone symphony orchestra follows the arc of the country's development and subsequent decay. Formed with a few strings, woodwinds and horns, by the early 1970s it blossomed into a full 70-piece orchestra with 20 to 30 foreign members. It has by now shrunk to some 45 musicians. Big booming pieces like much of Tchaikovsky, Brahms's Fourth Symphonyor Beethoven's "Eroica" are out of reach. Most of the best instruments have been taken abroad for sale, and replacement parts are rare and costly. When the orchestra started, its members got the then princely sum of 10 dinars, or $30, a month. Now they get 25,000 dinars, which is worth $12. That's a little less than the cost of a new set of strings. Every member of the orchestra has another job. The ten orgrinds coffee beans. One horn player drives a cab. The man who plays the bassoon also fixes electric heaters. They try to give one concert a month, but sometimes too many miss practice because of their jobs. The audience turns up faithfully whenever they perform. "The good musicians have all retired or left Iraq," saidone man in his 60's, a patron for decades. "Still, it's better than spending a lonely evening at home where you don't know when the electricity might be cut." Moments after he spoke on Monday night, the power failed in the performance hall. Mr. Jamil, the tenor, stepped to the edge of the stage before his solo to say the candle light made the night seem blessed, expressing his wishes for a Merry Christmas and a far happier New Year for all. "Everybody always makes wishes, but nothing ever changes,"said a voice in English from the dark.

Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company

3. Letter to the Editor
by Munir Allahwerdi

I would like to congratulate the New York Times and Mr. Neil MacFARQUHAR for the article entitled (In Baghdad, There´s Little Romance in Music by Candlelight) in which a true picture of life for the Iraqi people especially the intellectuals and music lovers under UN sanctions is humanely and poetically depicted. As a former Iraqi citizen and a founder of the Iraqi National Symphony Orchestra who served as its solo clarinetist from its inception during the late 1940s until 1960 I found it useful to add a slight correction to the story. The orchestra was referred to as The Baghdad Symphony Orchestra in April 1950 by the English language daily - The Iraq Times- announcing its first concert under that name and listing the names of its founders. Mr. Abdul Razak al-Alawi was not among them nor was he a member of the orchestra at that time. That is a fact needing to be put on record even though I have great respect for him and for his achievements and struggle to keep the orchestra going under the present difficult circumstances. Besides, his name is correctly written as al-Azzawi and not al-Alawi.

[The writer lives in Vienna, Austria as a UN Retiree and continues to play the clarinet and performs with his Chamber Music group of players.]

4. Letter to the Editor
by Wafaa' Al-Natheema

Despite my boycott of the New York Times for its political incorrectness and propaganda, I read some good paragraphs in the article by Neil MacFARQUHAR. I thank him for reporting on the INSO's performance on December 25. Some of the information presented in his article was valuable. I only wished that MacFarquhar focused on the INSO, musicians and the arts rather than diverting some of the article's paragraphs to addressing political cliches. From my long reading experience of the New York Times, staying neutral or focusing on the subject without hints or hidden agenda is near-impossible whenever the coverage is related to the Arab or Islamic worlds.

The picture, that was included in the article showing the performers with candles, was wonderful and truly romantic. Please note that there were two errors in this article concerning the date on which the Orchestra was founded (not in 1950 as indicated in the article, but almost a decade earlier) and the spelling of Mr. Al-Azawi's name, which appeared in the article as Al-Alawi. Thank you for publishing the article.
Best Regards.

5. Musicians' Report Hoping to Head to Iraq
by Cameron Powers
We have been invited to enter Baghdad by the Musicians' Association there. We recently heard from some peace activists there that our visa applications have now been approved and that when e-mail communication into and out of Iraq comes back, we may receive this good news from the authorities there. Back here in the USA we give presentations which allow us to show photographs and tell stories about our adventures. On our last trip we sang with people in parks, theaters, homes and restaurants... We lived with Iraqi refugees in Amman and with Bedouins in the desert... We spent some time in Ramallah in the West Bank of Palestine singing in a restaurant and in a hotel...We are prepared to return to the Middle East and to enter Iraq and to bring our musical connection to people there as soon as our visas are approved.


6. How to become subscribers of this (INSO) list?
If you have not subscribed to this list, this is the only message you receive. To subscribe, please send an email to by writing 'subscribe' in the message box NOT in the subject title. Thank you. Please note that Al-Wafaa News is an independent newsletter, which focuses on the arts and social issues.

The INSO Writing/Editing Team:
Munir Allahwerdi, Clarinet Player, Engineer (INSO) [Austria]
Munther J. Hafeth, Composer, Musician (INSO) [IRAQ]
Nahla Jajo, Violinist, Architect (INSO) [IRAQ]
Andrew Jones, Violinist, Journalist [South Africa]
Beatrice Ohanessian, Composer, Pianist (INSO) [USA]
Bassim H. Petros, Cellist, Music Critic (INSO) [New Zealand]
Wafaa' Al-Natheema, List Moderator & Concert Tour Organizer [USA]