A leading Syrian orchestra is reuniting for a rare concert this summer at London’s Southbank Centre. The perception of Syria has recently been so monopolised by stories of conflict that little attention has been granted to the local popular culture decimated in the civil war. One such institution to find itself scattered across the world in the wake of atrocity has been the Syrian National Orchestra for Arabic Music (SNOAM).
Formed by the late Iraqi conductor Solhi al-Wadi in 1993, the orchestra has travelled the world and in 2004 took up residence at the Damascus Opera House. But since the uprising against Bashar al-Assad began in 2011, the Opera House has been regularly targeted in airstrikes, international performers have declined to appear, and visitors have dwindled. Conductor Missak Baghboudarian, who works regularly at the Opera House, told the Times of Israel that concerts and plays still take place, but sporadically and with a skeleton staff. “It is not easy to play when you hear every day that people are dying,” he said. “But music is life – it brings people together.”
For SNOAM, the summer concert (designed as the first in a potential series of events this year) marks the first public performance by the entire orchestra, led by conductor Issam Rafea, since 2011. Appearing as support will be several so-far-unannounced guests, as well as Damon Albarn, who previously worked with the orchestra on the Gorillaz track White Flag. The orchestra then went on to join the band on their 2010 world tour.
Africa Express Presents The Syrian National Orchestra occurs on Saturday 25 June, and tickets can be bought at the Southbank Centre website.