An extraordinary story…
Now viola virtuoso Raghad is to take centre stage herself in a charity concert with the London Phoenix Orchestra and Chorus at the world-famous St John’s Smith Square to provide physiotherapy and sanitation in her homeland of Syria on 01 March 2018.
Organisers raised the staging costs of more than £4,000 via crowdfunding and corporate donors, so all money from ticket sales and collections at the performance on 01 March 2018 will go directly to the acclaimed Help Refugees (HR) charity. Every £50 raised can help HR provide medical treatment for ten people in Syria for a whole month.
The programme includes a rare performance of Bruch’s Concerto for Clarinet and Viola in E Minor – in which clarinettist Sheena Balmain will join Raghad – as well as the challenging ‘Choral’ Symphony No9 in D Minor by Beethoven, plus excerpts from Faure’s Requiem. The conductor is Lev Parikian and tickets priced £15 and £12 (£9 concessions) for the 7.30pm concert .
Raghad, 36, fought to win refugee status to stay in the UK and from her South Coast home is now working hard to build a new life here for her husband, a trained luthier and piano tuner, and son Gaby, now five. As well as freelancing as a musician, and translation work, she is a member of the newly formed London Syrian Ensemble a collective of Syria’s finest musicians based in the UK, bringing the sounds of Syria through a diverse repertoire of classical and traditional music from the region.
It’s a world apart from the destruction and suffering they managed to escape: as a member of the Syrian National Orchestra, she ran a daily 100-mile gauntlet of snipers and checkpoints travelling by minibus from her home city of Yabroud to the capital, Damascus where she also taught at the Higher Institute of music. She has recalled [in the i]: “Every time I prayed: ‘Just let me get back to my son’.”
A friend was killed when a mortar struck the opera house shortly before Raghad and colleagues were to perform there, in 2014. Yet she had to continue playing as music was the family’s only income – she taught in the national conservatoire too; finally music also provided their escape route.
Raghad was asked to join Albarn’s collective Africa Express and played across Europe as part of the Orchestra of Syrian Musicians, to great acclaim. At the end of the tour, she had a stark choice: return to her family and the war – or try and start a new solo life abroad, aiming to help her husband and son to follow.
So as the best English speaker in a group of nine Syrian artistes, Raghad was the one to make their first, faltering appeal for asylum to UK border control staff at Heathrow.