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updated: 6/19/2014 12:31 PM

Iraqi orchestra cancels U.S. tour, debut in Elgin

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  • The National Youth Orchestra of Iraq has canceled two August concerts in Elgin, which would have been the beginning of its U.S. debut tour. Here, they rehearse in an undated photo.

      The National Youth Orchestra of Iraq has canceled two August concerts in Elgin, which would have been the beginning of its U.S. debut tour. Here, they rehearse in an undated photo.
    Courtesy of Paul MacAlindin

  • National Youth Orchestra of Iraq bass players are, from left, Chia Sultan, Tom Laffoy and Samir Basim. The players always audition via YouTube.

      National Youth Orchestra of Iraq bass players are, from left, Chia Sultan, Tom Laffoy and Samir Basim. The players always audition via YouTube.
    Courtesy of Paul MacAlindin

  • Zuhal Sultan of Baghdad founded the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq in 2009.

      Zuhal Sultan of Baghdad founded the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq in 2009.
    Courtesy of Paul MacAlindin

 
 

What was supposed to be a joyful first in the suburbs will no longer take place because of the sectarian upheaval in Iraq.

The National Youth Orchestra of Iraq canceled its long-in-the-making U.S. debut, which was to feature two concerts at Elgin Community College in August followed by performances in New York City and Washington, D.C.

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The Iraqi musicians also were planning to attend a three-week music camp while staying at Northern Illinois University.

The instability in Iraq has made it impossible for the musicians to complete the U.S. visa process that would have allowed them to travel next month, said Rachel Maley of the Elgin Youth Symphony Orchestra.

Maley coordinated the Iraqi musicians' suburban stay, helping secure the performance venue and accommodations.

Protocol requires people to have in-person interviews to secure visas, Maley said.

"We were informed (of the cancellation) about 48 hours ago," she said. "The grant processes, the visa processes, the cultural affairs processes needed to make this happen -- all are put on hold."

The U. S. Department of State Monday began relocating some staff members from the American embassy in Baghdad to consulates in Basrah and Erbil, and the Iraq support unit at the embassy in Amman, Jordan, according information posted on the embassy's website.

The Iraqi orchestra's music director, Paul MacAlindin, based in Germany, said via telephone last week he had tried to make a U.S. tour happen for years.

EYSO music director Randal Swiggum contacted him via email earlier this year, MacAlindin said.

As a result, sponsors and donors had come together to make the U.S. tour happen, which would have been an especially emotional one for the orchestra, MacAlindin said. The orchestra has performed in Germany, France and the United Kingdom.

Being a musician in Iraq has always been perilous, MacAlindin said.

Depending where they live, musicians have to be cautious when rehearsing -- even at home -- because some Muslim religious fundamentalists believe musical instruments are forbidden according to the Quran, he said.

Also, because of difficulties in traveling in some parts of the country, the musicians audition via YouTube videos, he said.

Maley said there's been some discussion about hosting the Iraqi orchestra next year, but it's too early to tell if that will happen.

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