ABOUT the PROJECT
The Orchestral Music of Afghanistan: Looking Forward
The Orchestral Music of Afghanistan: Looking Forward is a commissioning and performance project co-curated by Cayenna Ponchione-Bailey and Arson Fahim to celebrate Afghanistan’s history of orchestral music-making while providing a platform for the flourishing creativity of Afghan composers and musicians who are now in exile or hiding, unable to make music in their own country. On 5 July 2022, as part of the Spitalfields Music Festival in London, the Oxford Philharmonic Orchestra and guest master musicians premiered eight newly commissioned works by Afghan composers representing some of the most exciting new compositional talent to come out of Afghanistan in the last decade, including the original compositions and orchestral arrangements of traditional Afghan songs. In addition to these premieres, our guest musicians will perform a small number of traditional pieces without the rest of the orchestra.
The orchestras of Afghanistan are unique in that they usually encompass a fusion of traditional Afghan instruments with those of European heritage—the combination of which define the essentially Afghan timbral and rhythmic qualities of these ensembles. This commissioning project sought to expand the timbral palette available to composers while building on the orchestral instrumentation established at the Afghanistan National Institute of Music over the past decade. For this commissioning project, composers have been given the opportunity to write for an orchestra comprising of flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn, trumpet, trombone, percussion, rubab (often considered the national instrument of Afghanistan), herati dutar, harmonium, sitar, tabla, 7 violins, 3 violas, 2 cellos and a double bass. One of the visions is that other orchestras across the globe will be able to programme these new compositions, engaging the Afghan musicians in their own communities to join the orchestras for their performances.
A word from Co-Curator, Arson Fahim…
“Despite music having an important role in Afghanistan's culture and history, over four decades of war and extremism have had a devastating impact on it. In the late 90's music was completely banned by the Taliban and taking power in August of 2021, they are once again silencing music by breaking instruments and persecuting musicians. This concert is about sharing the beauty of Afghanistan and its music but also raising awareness about the sad realities the country is facing. The concert is a way of keeping the sound of Afghan music loud and alive – a symbol of resistance and a message of hope.”
Additional concerts are currently being scheduled. If you would like to programme any of these works on your own concert please email Dr Cayenna Ponchione-Bailey who can connect you with the relevant composers.
Dr Cayenna Ponchione-Bailey, Co-Curator
Originally from Alaska and now based in the UK, Dr Cayenna Ponchione-Bailey is an orchestral conductor and scholar of the social psychology of orchestral music-making. Working to advance social justice and environmental sustainability within music both on and off the podium, her bold orchestral initiatives fuse the local with the global, amplify leading environmental research, and engage with the pressing issues of our time. Her work has been funded by Arts Council England, British Council, Leverhulme Trust, Oxfordshire Community Foundation, The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities, and many others.
Dr Ponchione-Bailey is a Leverhulme Early Career Research Fellow at the University of Sheffield where she holds a three-year grant to research the Orchestras of Afghanistan. She is also the Conducting Fellow for the Oxford Philharmonic Orchestra, Director of Performance at St Catherine's College, University of Oxford and Director of Research for the Oxford Conducting Institute.
In 2019, Cayenna brought the Afghan Women’s Orchestra to Oxford for a ten-day residency in collaboration with the Orchestra of St John’s, Somerville College (University of Oxford), and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The residency included side-by-side rehearsals with professional musicians, educational concerts, a conducting masterclass, and a number of concerts at the Harrow Arts Centre, British Museum, Sheldonian Theatre and Lancaster House. From 2018-2021, Cayenna served as conducting tutor and mentor to the young conductors at the Afghanistan National Institute of Music. In the wake of the Taliban takeover of the country, she has helped coordinate the International Campaign for Afghanistan’s Musicians.
Arson Fahim, Co-Curator
Featured by the BBC World Service and Lyse Doucet, composer and pianist Arson Fahim’s music is infused with his compassion and a fierce commitment to social justice within his homeland of Afghanistan. Having graduated from the Afghanistan National Institute of Music in 2020, he is now enrolled in a composition degree at Longy School of Music in Boston. Fahim’s music has been performed in the USA, UK and Italy, and his original score for the play In the Sea There Are Crocodiles was performed at the Wales Millennium Centre in November 2021.
This project has been made possible through
the generous support of...
Oxford Philharmonic Orchestra
Henfrey Charitable Trust
New Music Commission Fund
University of Sheffield
Sir Howard and Lady Stringer
Jon & Julia Aisbitt
Sir Winfried Bischoff
David and Elizabeth Ure
and individual donors
Special gratitude goes to Sadie Harrison, Mirwaiss Sidiqi,
Marios and Anthi Papadopoulos, Sarah Gee and Rachel Jackson