One of my colleagues Jaffar asked me a couple of days ago if I am interested in classical music performances. When I replied in the affirmative, he invited me to accompany him to the concert after our office work. It was on yesterday. It’s a performance by the Iraqi National Symphony Orchestra at the National Theater in Baghdad.
After our office hours, we went to a restaurant near the National Theater, named Mariam restaurant. We had our lunch, tikkas and Iraqi breads, followed by two rounds of tea.
We then walked down to the National Theater. It’s nearby. The scheduled time to start was 6:00 PM. We reached there on time and bought VIP tickets to sit near the stage.
The Iraqi National Symphony Orchestra began as the Baghdad Symphony Orchestra in 1944. The orchestra became officially known as the Iraqi National Symphony in 1959 when it began to receive a salary from the government. The Iraqi National Symphony Orchestra was abolished by the Iraqi Minister of Culture in 1962 and rehearsed underground until 1970 when it was re-established. Since its revival in 1970, Iraq’s national orchestra has survived decades of upheaval with the resilience of the artists and credit to music lovers and connoisseurs of Iraq.
While waiting for the gate to open we found a nice music-loving crowd comprising mostly of young people. It’s nice to see the interest in classical music among the young population in Baghdad. The event wasn’t publicized. The audience heard about it via social media, and word of mouth. It’s a strategy widely used in Iraq’s cultural world to avoid disruptions by ultra-right religious elements.
After some waiting, the gate opened. We took our seats. The show started around 45 minutes late, at around 6:45 PM. It started with a poem reading. It was in chaste Arabic and so it went over my head. It was conducted by Kareem Wasfi, who has been with the symphony for the past 25 years. He began as a cellist, and in 2005 — when the country was reeling from brutal sectarian violence — he became its conductor. He also gave his performance on the stage. The audience erupted in applause when the conductor arrived and quickly fell silent as the first notes are struck at the concert. It was good to see some young female instrumentalists in the group.
The concert was over at around 8:00 PM. The performance of the orchestra was pretty good. The theatre was quite full. The audience enjoyed the live classical music performance with silence and applause at the end.
It was a wonderful musical evening. I enjoyed it very much.