Syrian migrant musicians tell Germans: ‘This is us’

Sunday 18/09/2016
Mohamad Fityan plays the ney, a traditional Arabic flute, during a concert performed by the Syrian Expat Philharmonic Orchestra in the Concert House in Berlin’s Gendarmenmarkt, on September 11th.

Berlin - At the neoclassical Concert House in Berlin’s Gendar­menmarkt square, busts of German composers Beethoven, Bach and Handel looked on as the 65 musi­cians took their seats for a sold-out weekend concert.
The Syrian Expat Philharmonic Orchestra settling in to play repre­sents a much more recent chapter in German history, consisting entirely of professional musicians who fled civil war in their homeland to seek refuge in Europe.
Founded in Germany a year ago by Raed Jazbeh, who plays double bass and acts as the artistic director, it has since performed concerts across the country and plans to tour Sweden.
All the members of the orches­tra are classically trained and most studied for at least five years at the Higher Institute of Music in Damas­cus. Their recent concert fused a mix of classical European music, classi­cal Arab music and Arabic folkloric music.
The musicians’ hope is that their concerts will give the European au­dience a reference point to under­stand Syrian music and culture.
“I feel that it is my responsibility as a musician to present our culture, our music and show that we can be together in peace in Europe,” said Mohamad Fityan, who plays the ney, a traditional Arabic flute. “I think the best way to do that is through music.”
Fityan, an Aleppo native, fled to Germany in 2015 and was quickly granted asylum. Others settled in other countries around Europe and when the musicians get together for concerts, it is often an emotional re­union.
“I never imagined that I would be here in Europe, playing with a whole orchestra of Syrian musicians and that we are all living in Europe. I never imagined that,” said Rasha Rizk, a soprano soloist who lives in Paris.
More than 1 million migrants en­tered Europe in 2015 and Syrians were the largest single group.
The musicians tire, however, of seeing the images of their country at war — the reason for their flight to Europe — and other negative por­trayals of Syrians and hope that the concerts can help show a glimpse of themselves in normal times.
“This is us,” said Ghassan Ala­boud, who guest directs the orches­tra for the Berlin concerts. “This is Syria and these are the Syrian peo­ple.”
(The Associated Press)