Maher Abukhater
The Los Angeles Times (Blog)
December 31, 2010 - 1:00am

Today an orchestra, tomorrow a state.

With these words, Suhail Khoury, director of the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music, introduced the Palestine National Orchestra in its debut Friday in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

More than 40 Palestinian and foreign musicians came together to make the dream of a national orchestra a reality. The task was not easy, particularly because most of the musicians also play with renowned orchestras around the world. But for most of them, putting together a Palestinian national orchestra is seen as a stepping stone toward building an independent state of Palestine.

“Today we are witnessing the birth of the Palestine National Orchestra at a time when the Palestinian struggle for independence is passing through one of its most critical and difficult moments,” Khoury said.

“The task of bringing Palestinian musicians together to add a new cornerstone in the building of an independent Palestinian state was a very difficult endeavor,” he said.

The Edward Said National Conservatory of Music was founded in the mid-1990s with a few students and part-time teachers. Today it has more than 500 students enrolled with more than 40 teachers introducing classical and oriental music to new generations of Palestinians, preparing them for the new state to come.

“We musicians truly believe that a state is not only about buildings and roads, but most importantly it is about its people, their values, their arts and their cumulative cultural identity,” Khoury said.

Some of the Palestinian musicians came from Arab countries, where they grew up as refugees after their families fled when Israel was established in 1948. For some it was their first time in their ancestral homeland, a dream they did not think will happen in their lifetime.

The national orchestra made that dream come true for them.

Swiss conductor Baldur Bronnimann led the orchestra's debut, playing music by Mozart, Beethoven and others to a packed auditorium. Mariam Tamari, born to a Palestinian father and a Japanese mother, performed the soprano solo in Mozart’s Exsultate Jubilate.

The orchestra will have two more performances in the next couple of days, in Jerusalem and Haifa, Israel.

“The birth of the Palestine National Orchestra is the culmination of many years of preparation and hard work,” Khoury said.

“Although the Palestine National Orchestra will, for several years to come, be a one-time annual event, we will continue to work hard until this orchestra will become a full-fledged, full-time orchestra based in a free Palestine,” he said.

-- Maher Abukhater in Ramallah, West Bank


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017