Zuhal Sultan, founder of the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq, will speak at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 24, at Principia College.
ELSAH — Zuhal Sultan, founder of the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq, will speak at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 24, in Wanamaker Hall.
Her talk, Uniting Iraq’s Youth through Music, is sponsored by Principia College’s chapter of the Euphrates Institute. Sultan hails from Baghdad, where, at age 17 and amid conflict in Iraq, she followed her dream to unite young male and female Iraqi musicians from different backgrounds — Sunni, Shi’ite, Christian, Kurdish, Turkomen, Arab — in studying and performing music together.
A pianist by training, Sultan had no management experience prior to pursuing this project. Through her entrepreneurial spirit, she recruited renowned Scottish conductor Paul MacAlindin and held auditions for the orchestra via YouTube — a site familiar to the musicians because many of them learned to play through instructional Internet videos in lieu of formal training. Despite setbacks of all sorts, the orchestra has traveled abroad since 2011 and performed to sold-out audiences at major concert halls throughout Europe.
Young people join the orchestra at the risk of censure (or worse) because doing so requires crossing religious and ethnic lines many of their ancestors fought fiercely to defend. Playing an instrument, especially a Western one, is deemed un-Islamic by some extremists. Yet through the language of music — and the interactions and exchanges gained by practicing and performing together — these young people are bridging language barriers and long-standing divides.
Sultan has received international recognition in European and U.S. media and was named UNESCO’s “Young Artist for Intercultural Dialogue between Arab and Western Worlds” in 2011. The Euphrates Institute honored her with the 2015 Visionary of the Year award. Sultan will speak at the United Nations for International Day of Peace Sept. 21, just prior to her speaking engagement at Principia College.
Sultan also will perform at 1 p.m. Friday, Sept. 25, in Davis Music Hall and speak in Ridgway Auditorium on Principia’s School campus in St. Louis at 8 p.m. that evening. Admission to all events is complimentary, and both of her talks and her concert will be broadcast live on Principia Internet Radio (PIR).