This March, the 45-member Afghan Youth Orchestra will perform a special concert at The Stoller Hall, part of a series of collaborations called Breaking the Silence.
Playing Afghan and western musical instruments and mixing familiar orchestral repertoire with traditional music from their homeland, the orchestra features young men and women aged between 14 and 20, all progressing their ensemble and orchestral skills together under the direction of their conductor, Maestro Tiago Da Silva.
Originally formed in 2010, the AYO have successfully represented Afghan music nationally and internationally in venues such as Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Centre and Oman’s Royal Opera House. These events saw the orchestra navigate far away from their homeland, family, and the comforts of familiarity in order to celebrate their heritage, nurture bonds within and beyond their community, and ultimately empower their members.
The AYO’s current shape came about in 2022, after the orchestra was forced into exile in Portugal, due to the return of the Taliban to power. The ensemble made its debut in this incarnation in October 2022 at Lisbon’s Gulbenkian Concert Hall. Since then, the’ve received invitations from various European cities and have performed in Geneva and in Bonn, where they joined forces with young Iranian and German musicians.
Here in the UK, their Breaking the Silence tour takes in more collaborations with soloists and ensembles spanning performances, workshops and educational activities in London, Birmingham and Manchester. All of these events aim to provide a safe, healing, community-focussed space for both the musicians involved and their audiences, uniting individuals of diverse backgrounds through music.
Within the AYO there is an integrated group of female musicians who perform as the Ensemble Zohra. These young women are defying the odds to attain an education and play music together; they are among the first women in their families, communities, and country to learn music in over 30 years.
Initially a small chamber group, the Ensemble Zohra soon grew into what is now a 25-member orchestra, comprising both Western classical and traditional Afghan instruments including a harmonious mix of strings, woodwinds, piano and percussion, rubab, dutar, tambour, sitar, tabla, and qashqarcha. The ensemble represents a huge step forwards in terms of providing opportunities for female musicians to unite in solidarity, deepen their commitment to music, and develop their skills as collaborative musicians.
In the words of the orchestra:
“When children play in a musical ensemble they collaborate, listen, share and contribute. AYO’s ensembles are a microcosm of the future and we hope these concerts series shall help to achieve such a vision.”