Scotland embraces the world’s bravest orchestra

Government stumps up £100,000 to ensure musicians from Middle East can play at festival

A performance by the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq will be one of the highlights of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe after the Scottish Government helped finance the musicians’ debut UK visit using the seized proceeds of crime.

The orchestra was formed in 2009 by Zuhal Sultan, a then 17-year-old pianist. She sought recruits through social networking sites and the group now numbers 46 self-taught Kurdish, Arab, Turkmen and Assyrian musicians aged 25 or under, united by a mission to educate young people from across Iraq in classical music.

Described as “the bravest orchestra in theworld”, the musicians have defied hostility from fundamentalist elements and the daily threat of sectarian violence, to produce a series of acclaimed performances.

The orchestra’s musical director, Paul MacAlindin from Aberdeen, launched an appeal to bring the youngsters to his home country. The Edinburgh trip was in doubt after the orchestra struggled to raise the £250,000 required. “We have now got the green light,” Mr MacAlindin told The Independent. “We have secured funds from the Scottish Government and the British Council.”

The Scottish Government’s £100,000 contribution has been allocated from a £13.9m haul seized under the Proceeds of Crime Act. The money was confiscated from Scottish engineering company the Weir Group, which admitted breaching UN sanctions against Iraq.

Mr MacAlindin, who answered a newspaper advert seeking a “maestro” to help the Iraqi musicians, said: “Young people in Iraq really want to play classical music but organising rehearsals is very difficult in places like Baghdad. Instrument cases can be misinterpreted as bombs. Young people are under pressure not to meet other musicians because of fundamentalist influences.”

The orchestra has also overcome ethnic suspicions. “The Kurdish and Arab participants never considered working together before,” the director said.

The Iraqis will spend three weeks working with the Edinburgh Youth Orchestra before the 26 August concert at Greyfriars Kirk. They will join cellist Julian Lloyd Webber and their repertoire will include a concerto for the oud by Scottish composer Gordon McPherson.

Fringe Benefits

The 2012 Edinburgh Festival Fringe, unveiled today, features 2,695 shows – a 6% increase on last year – across 279 venues. Paul Merton, Alan Davies, Phill Jupitus and Rhod Gilbert are among the comedy highlights.

Art exhibitions include Cheer Up! It’s Not the End of the World… at the Edinburgh Printmakers, which features apocalyptic prints from Jake and Dinos Chapman, Gordon Cheung, Damien Hirst and Andy Warhol.

One of the highlights on the stage is Re-Animator The Musical at Assembly George Square. George Wendt (Norm from Cheers) stars in the award-winning horror comedy based on the cult classic. H P Lovecraft’s Re-Animator is the bizarre story of Herbert West, a young medical student who has discovered a glowing green serum which can bring the dead back to life.

Hotly-tipped Aussie Michael Workman, who won the the best comedy award at this year’s Adelaide Fringe, presents Mercy (Gilded Balloon at Third Door). In 1960s Cuba a man is exiled for criticising Castro’s regime. Augustus is pushed out to sea with nothing but a pile of cabbages, and must conquer his fears to return home.

Rob Drummond presents Bullet Catch at the Traverse Theatre. The bullet catch stunt is so dangerous Houdini refused to attempt it, and it has claimed the lives of at least 12 illusionists, assistants and spectators since its conception in 1613. Now, with a little help from his audience, modern-day marvel William Wonder presents a unique magic show featuring storytelling, mind reading, levitation, games of chance and, if you’re brave enough to stay for it, the most notorious finale in show business.

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