PYO in Palestine

When young Palestinian musicians take to the stage, there is a determination and ambition that many performers elsewhere would envy. Palestine Youth Orchestra (PYO) programmes always carry the signature of Palestine, including both symphonic standards and new music by emerging Palestinian and Arab composers. Many of Palestine’s finest musical talents have worked with the orchestra. Recent soloists have included soprano Dima Bawab, Syrian violinist Maias Al Yamani, clarinettist Mohamed Najem, and the legendary Lebanese composer Marcel Khalife. Established in 2004 by the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music (ESNCM), the PYO was formed with the vision of bringing together young Palestinian musicians from around the world. It also regularly includes guests from neighbouring Arab countries and the Mediterranean region. It has performed in Germany, Lebanon, Syria, Bahrain, Greece, Italy, Jordan, and Palestine.

Conductor Sian Edwards leads a host of guest conductors who have directed the orchestra. She was recently appointed Head of Conducting at London’s Royal Academy of Music. The PYO also has a partnership with the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra and every year welcomes a team of experts from around the world. They gain a unique insight into the cultural life of young Palestinians. Last summer (2012) the PYO took on its most ambitious tour to date. Starting in the small village of Vernazza in Italy, nearly destroyed by a landslide a year earlier, the orchestra moved on to the famous Teatro Carlo Felice in Genoa, before performing outdoors in the Piazza della Signoria in Florence and the national conservatory of music in Rome. The tour finished in Ravello, high up on the cliffs overlooking the Amalfi coast under a full moon.

The PYO adds to the musical diversity of Palestine. It was born here and belongs here. It is important to play at home despite the logistical problems faced in bringing young Palestinians from the diaspora to Palestine to rehearse and perform alongside those who live here. This summer the orchestra will perform at the Bethlehem Convention Palace, An-Najah National University, Ramallah Cultural Palace, and Amman Citadel. The ESNCM Orchestra, Jerusalem Children’s Orchestra, and Palestine Strings – who perform at the Royal Albert Hall in London this summer – have all enjoyed recent success. The newly launched Palestine National Orchestra performed in Indonesia in April. We are aware that the PYO has to impress this summer in order to keep its place as Palestine’s flagship orchestra, and this year’s programme is packed with music people will recognise. The centrepiece is Dvorak’s famous “New World Symphony,” and the first half features music by composers from Palestine, Argentina, Syria, Algeria, the United States, and Germany. Every year students organise a free chamber music concert that includes everything from traditional music, pop, and jazz to new compositions and improvisations. Last year we even had music from video games played by the brass. These concerts have been performed next to swimming pools, on rooftops in Birzeit, and in a Renaissance courtyard in Italy. The PYO 2013 is funded with support from the European Union, the Bank of Palestine, the permanent sponsor of the orchestra, and the A.M. Qattan Foundation. The concerts are dedicated to the memory of Dr. Gabi Baramki, former acting president of Birzeit University, board member and long-time supporter of the ESNCM.