Afghan youth orchestra to perform in US

AFP, Thursday 31 Jan 2013

Afghanistan youth orchestra will perform concerts at New York's famed Carnegie Hall and a series of other venues

Afghanistan's youth orchestra flies to the United States on Saturday for a concert tour highlighting changes in the war-torn country since the ousting of the Taliban, who banned music.

Fifty students from the National Institute of Music and 12 faculty members will play at New York's famed Carnegie Hall and a series of other venues, the founder and director of the institute, Ahmad Sarmast, told AFP.

Some of the musicians are orphans who in the past made a living selling odds and ends on the streets and have never before left their impoverished country.

The orchestra also includes girls, who were prevented from attending school by the Taliban who ruled Afghanistan for five years before being ousted in the 2001 US-led invasion for sheltering Al-Qaeda after the 9/11 attacks.

All the students are aged between 10 and 20 years old.

"They are extremely excited and happy to go on this tour and be a symbol of the positive changes happening in Afghanistan," said Sarmast.

The director, who trained in Moscow and spent time in Australia before returning to Afghanistan in 2008, said the orchestra would play a variety of pieces, including traditional Afghan and Western classical music.

The school operates under the education ministry with large contributions from Western donors, and sponsors for the US tour include the World Bank and the US State Department.

The aid allows the school, which also teaches the children a standard curriculum of English and sciences, to award scholarships to talented youngsters from the streets so they can study alongside the country's tiny elite.

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