Syrian orchestra will reunite in London

The Syrian National Orchestra for Arabic Music, which includes musicians from different perspectives of Syria's war, will perform June 25, showing 'another side to the Syrian story.'

Andres Stapff/Reuters/File
Damon Albarn of the British band Blur performs during a show in Montevideo, Uruguay, in 2013. 'We're so used to seeing Syria through the prism of news, which is entirely a negative thing. This concert will give a completely different perspective,' says Mr. Albarn, a songwriter, producer, and performer.

A Syrian orchestra whose members have fled the country's civil war to different parts of the globe is reuniting in London for a rare concert which they say will show people another side of their country.

The Syrian National Orchestra for Arabic Music, which includes musicians from different perspectives of Syria's war, will perform on June 25 with songwriter and producer Damon Albarn, frontman of the band Blur, and other guest performers.

"This concert is a wonderful opportunity to show the world another side to the Syrian story – joy and a celebration of our music and culture," said the orchestra's principal conductor Issam Rafea, who now lives in the United States.

"The fabric of Syrian society has been torn apart as a result of the conflict," he said. "There will be people representing both sides of the argument present both on stage and in the audience. But all are in agreement that we want it to end."

Rafea, who was winner of the 2010 Best Composer Award in the Dubai International Film Festival, and the 90-member orchestra first played with Albarn at the Damascus Opera House in 2008.

They later worked together on a track with the band Gorillaz, which was co-founded by Albarn, and joined Gorillaz on their 2010 Escape to Plastic Beach World Tour, which included shows in Damascus, Syria; Lebanon; and across Europe and North America.

But the outbreak of civil war in March 2011 led to Rafea and the rest of the orchestra fleeing to different locations globally, and this will be their first performance since then.

"It's a truly miraculous sound they create.... There's a whole choir, there's strings, there's soloists, there's amazing percussion. It's a really dynamic and joyous sound," Albarn said in a statement. "We're so used to seeing Syria through the prism of news, which is entirely a negative thing. This concert will give a completely different perspective."

• Reporting by Alex Whiting, editing by Belinda Goldsmith. This story was originally posted on the website of the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption, and climate change. Visit news.trust.org.

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