Allegra Klein Joins the Iraqi National Symphony
New York Violinist is the first American woman to ever join the INSO
In May, violinist Allegra Klein made her Baghdad debut as a full-time member of the Iraqi National Symphony Orchestra (INSO). Her debut is not only personally significant, but also marks a historic milestone: Klein is the first American woman to ever join the INSO and the first foreign member to join since 2003. “It is truly humbling to have this special honor,” she says. “I am proud to be a part of this ensemble. They are a wonderful group of people who soldier on despite all the hardships they have faced, and continue to face, on a daily basis.”
Klein’s relationship with INSO began almost seven years ago. After the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Klein founded Musicians for Harmony, a nonprofit charity aimed, she says, at promoting “dialogue and peace among differing cultures through the universal tool of music.” Klein made her first trip to Iraq in November 2003 to deliver musical instruments and supplies to INSO, where a member offered up his violin so she could sit in on a rehearsal.
Klein reunited with INSO musicians in 2007 to teach for the US Department of State–sponsored Iraqi Unity Performing Arts Academy in the northern Iraqi city of Erbil, where she met young pianist Zuhal Sultan. In 2009 Klein returned to Iraq once more to help Sultan establish the first National Youth Orchestra of Iraq (NYOI). A specialist in arts administration and international affairs, Klein serves as NYOI’s director of education and cultural affairs. In 2006, she spoke to the United Nations about the role of arts in educating girls in developing countries.
INSO principal conductor and director Karim Wasfi invited Klein to sign the yearlong contract, making her one of just two women in the ensemble of more than 90 musicians. The symphony also counts among its members-in-training five high-school-age girls.
“They are the future of the symphony,” says Klein, who also is developing programs to encourage women composers and conductors in Iraq.
Klein, a Harvard University–trained musician and Suzuki teacher from New York, has worked for Carnegie Hall, Queens College’s preparatory division, and the New York Youth Symphony. She now lives in Baghdad, working at an Iraqi women-owned development firm. She practices with INSO twice a week. “The symphony musicians have accepted me as one of their own,” Klein says. “The day I arrived for my first official rehearsal, Wasfi said to me, ‘Welcome home.’”