Back to overview

Palestinian Youth Orchestra

Contributed by This Week In Palestine on 18.09.2009:

August 2009 The Palestine Youth Orchestra at the Beiteddine Festival and in Amman

By Lena Saleh

A flagship of the Edward Said National Music Conservatory, the Palestine Youth Orchestra (PYO) was created in 2004 with the vision of bringing together young Palestinian musicians from around the world. Today the PYO is composed of fifty young Palestinian musicians who reside in Palestine, Jordan, Syria, the United States, and Europe. Together they create a quality national youth orchestra on par with similar groups worldwide.

The PYO is a unique ensemble, which as well as performing the classics of the symphonic repertoire, makes a special effort to promote the work of Palestinian and Arab composers. The uniqueness is reflected in what the orchestra conveys to Palestinian society and to the various communities and people abroad who have the opportunity to attend its performances. The PYO is a reflection of young Palestine, and our PYO members are our ambassadors to the world.

Over the past five years the Palestine Youth Orchestra has performed in Jordan, Germany, Syria, Bahrain, and, for the first time in the summer of 2008, in Palestine, with its widely acclaimed concert tour, “Al Quds Ughaniati” (Jerusalem Is My Song). The sixth workshop and concert tour this year will take the PYO towards new horizons, to the hills of Lebanon, to the Beiteddine Festival and back to Amman. This year’s performance carries with it a special message as it marks three occasions: Jerusalem, Capital of Arab Culture 2009; a tribute to the memory of a great man, Mahmoud Darwish, one year after his passing away; and the centennial celebrations of the city of Amman. The PYO is proud to be able to participate in these important Arab and world events.

To mark the occasions the PYO is preparing a unique programme, coloured by the spirit and taste of Palestine and its ever-resilient people, and put into the hands of our young talented musicians, eager to share with the outside world their zest for life and passion for music.

The Beiteddine Festival audience will enjoy a programme which embodies the heart of Palestine and the essence of the Palestinian saga, with the Cantata Ahmad Al-Arabi by Marcel Khalife, based on a poem by Darwish and with the participation of Marcel Khalife and Umayma Al Khalil, to be followed by a selection of songs from Suhail Khoury’s Ashiqa with Reem Talhami as soloist.

Following in the same commemorative spirit, the concert programme in Amman will have as its main piece Beethoven’s Third Symphony Eroica, “a tribute to a great man”; to be followed by excerpts from Ahmad Al-Arabi and Ashiqa.

The PYO this year will bring together 75 musicians from occupied Palestine and the Palestinian diaspora together with a small group of young Arab musicians from Egypt, Jordan, and Syria. They will be joined by a choir of fifty Lebanese and Palestinian singers directed by Father Khalil Rahme of Notre Dame University in Lebanon. The members are honoured to be led once more by the acclaimed English conductor Sian Edwards, who previously conducted the PYO in 2006.

Ahmad Al-Arabi

Ahmad Al-Arabi is not just a poem. It is a hymn for a nation; a nation under siege, a nation resisting siege, a nation refusing to surrender to siege.

Today, after the death of Darwish, Palestinian youth take up this hymn, to vow steadfastness to the poet’s spirit which floats over Palestine and the Arab scene. We shall not surrender: we promise this to ourselves and to the future.

On a hill in Ramallah, overlooking from afar the sea of Haifa, rests Mahmoud Darwish. He ascended the hill just as is mentioned in the hymn, “…and Ahmad Al-Arabi ascended the hill to overlook Haifa.” On the hill Mahmoud, like Ahmad, watches and waits. And we, likewise, wait for the dawn of a new occurrence, for the genesis of some hope.

Darwish’s entire life was a pursuit of this hope. He left us before he saw its birth. But before departing he helped shape the identity of a whole people who longs for this hope. He carved this identity of longing and hope with his very hands.

On the hill Mahmoud is waiting

On the hill Palestine is waiting

On the hill an entire nation is waiting

On the hill Ahmad Al-Arabi is under siege

And a day will come when he will descend from the hill, emerging from his ancient wounds, to see the homeland and discover it all over again.

Original Arabic text by Zakaria Mohammad; English translation by Lena Saleh


Ashiqa is a life experience turned into music and song, narrating the suffering of a people who love life despite long years of oppression. It is the saga of the Palestinian people carried on melodious wings, piercing the boundaries of space, telling Palestinian tales: of a virgin waiting for a glance from her captive lover behind bars; of Gaza, where a candle burns, illuminating the waves and drying the tears of the land: a land embraced by children saturated with sea and rocks; of Jerusalem, the occupied city searching for its soul, its sky, its resurrection; and the camel driver, the enduring bearer of a nation’s worries, yet always scattering seeds of hope.

PYO Beiteddine Festival Concert, 12 August 2009.

Amman concerts 14 and 15 August 2009.

Lena Saleh, former UNESCO education specialist, is currently with the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music.

Photos courtesy of the ESNCM.

TWIP August 2009

There are no comments. Add one!