Minor earthquakes and the Iraqi Symphony Orchestra.
First, the quake. It was centered about 28 miles west of Richmond, VA and was felt by a member of my team as far north as Bethesda (he thought it sounded like someone was pushing a heavy cart somewhere nearby.) Aside from that, no real effects. I didn’t know about it myself until later, when my coworker caught me up on it.
The Iraqi National Symphony Orchestra being in town was, to me anyway, a more momentous event simply in their survival to take the stage tonight. Impoverished, isolated and in some cases exiled by former president Saddam Hussein, these musicians have more endured than enjoyed their long history as the oldest symphony in the Arab world. They were starved for strings and scores during a decade of U.N. sanctions on Iraq and robbed of their home when looters gutted the concert hall this year. Before that, “After 1979, when Saddam Hussein took power, we went through a catastrophe. All aspects of culture were neglected,” Mohammed Amin Ezzat, the Iraqi Symphony’s longtime conductor, said.
A senior minister told the orchestra it should emulate a pair of garish nightclub singers who crooned paeans for Hussein, Ezzat recalled. “The president loved the cheap arts and he hated our style of music,” said Mohammed Abed Ali, 28, who plays first violin. During the economic embargo following the first Gulf War, visitors from outside Iraq slipped sheet music into the country, where the scores were copied by hand, according to the musicians. They nursed their aging instruments, aware that spare parts were prohibitively expensive if they could be found at all.
Then came the March invasion. The musicians hunkered down at home.
“I’d go on the roof, watch the airplanes and the rockets, and then go downstairs and practice,” Benjamin said. Alone, he filled the blackout with the mournful call of the French horn.
Nine months later, symphony members said they relish being back in the spotlight.
“Now we’re getting recognition and attention,” said violinist Nobar Adnan, 30. “Before, we were playing in the dark.”
Moment of Zen