Baghdad Concert Features Donated Steinway Piano
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 19, 2004 If music is the universal language, then the message emanating from a Steinway concert grand piano at a concert today in Baghdad, Iraq, was one of friendship and support.
The Iraqi National Symphony Orchestra performed its first concert today at the Baghdad Convention Center since its new grand piano arrived last month.
Workers in Baghdad unload a Steinway piano donated to the Iraqi National Symphony Orchestra on Jan. 9. Courtesy photo
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Steinway & Sons offered to donate the piano after the orchestra performed here with the Washington National Symphony Orchestra.
Steinway responded to a National Endowment for the Arts plea for companies to donate instruments to the Iraqi orchestra, which floundered under Saddam Hussein.
Once the donation was made, the challenge became how to get the 990-pound piano from Steinway's Hamburg, Germany, factory to Baghdad. The Coalition Provisional Authority turned to the Defense Department for help.
Judith McCallum, who coordinates transportation for humanitarian assistance goods for the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, jumped on the case. Unfortunately, none of her usual shippers felt comfortable transporting the $100,000 piano to Iraq, particularly in light of security concerns.
In stepped Diplomatic Freight Services, based in Annapolis, Md., which not only offered to transport the piano, but also agreed to pick up the shipping tab.
"I'm thrilled that the Defense Department was able to help facilitate such a generous offer from Steinway," said McCallum.
"It shows the U.S. government's genuine dedication to helping the Iraqi people not only establishing or restoring their basic, day-to-day services, but also helping to preserve their cultural heritage," she said.
After the piano arrived in Iraq Jan. 9, six volunteers spent five hours uncrating, assembling and tuning the instrument, according to pianist Fadi Simer in Baghdad.
Today, Kristi Clemens, a CPA spokeswoman, sat in an audience of more than 200 Iraqi men, women and children, including several Iraqi Governing Council members, waiting for the curtain to go up and the concert to begin.
Sponsored by the Iraq Ministry of Culture's Musical Arts Department, the concert featured more than 60 members of the Iraqi National Symphony Orchestra, including conductors Mohammed Amin Ezzat and Hisham Sharaf.
"This represents continued, greater opportunities opening to the Iraqi people," Clemens said. "Things continue improving, and this is just one additional example of that ongoing progress."