Birzeit, Occupied West Bank – On a humid summer evening in Birzeit, the atmosphere in the Naseeb Azeez Shaheen Auditorium turned raucous when it was announced that two musicians from Gaza would be performing.
The audience had barely settled by the time the Palestine Youth Orchestra (PYO) launched into the familiar, dramatic opening bars of the Star Wars main theme.
“We try to make a point to come to Palestine because this is home,” PYO manager Zeina Khoury told Al Jazeera. “We do it once every few years, when we feel it is possible, and when we have the funding to do it. We tried this year and it worked out, but not as we had planned originally.”
|The Palestine Youth Orchestra performed at the Naseeb Azeez Shaheen Auditorium in Birzeit [Nigel Wilson/Al Jazeera]|
When the PYO was founded in Birzeit in 2004, applications were opened to Palestinians based within historic Palestine and throughout the diaspora. Musicians from across the globe applied to join, including from the Americas and Europe, as well as the Middle East region.
The PYO has since shifted its entry requirements and welcomes young Arabs, aged 14 to 26, from across the region. Sometimes, they are joined by members of international music conservatories who have taken part in exchange programmes with the orchestra over the years.
For those unable to easily reach the orchestra headquarters at the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music in Birzeit, auditions have been conducted over Skype or via YouTube videos. The orchestra usually tours once a year, and recent destinations have included the UK and France.
“Making it happen is always…