Simon Shaheen performs for World Refugee Day and Gaza Children

16 June 2009

16 June 2009
Damascus

Palestinian ‘oud player Simon Shaheen graced the stage of the Dar al Assad Opera House on 16 June in a concert to commemorate World Refugee Day.

He was accompanied by the UNRWA Nimreen Children‘s Music Ensemble, the Syrian National Symphony Orchestra under its conductor Missak Baghboudarian, and guest soloists from Syria.

Simon Shaheen is one of the most significant Arab musicians, performers and composers of his generation. After completing graduate studies at the Manhattan School of Music and Columbia University in New York, he went on to form the Near Eastern Ensemble and al Qantara. With them and as soloist, he performs over 100 concerts a year around the world, presenting music in the classical Arab traditions and a fusion of the Arab legacy with contemporary forms. Since 1994, he has produced the annual Arab Festival of Arts, Mahrajan al-Fan, in New York. He is also in great demand as a teacher, from his renowned Arabic Music Retreats at Mount Holyoke College in the USA to music workshops for gifted children in the occupied Palestinian territory.

The concert programme reflected Simon Shaheen‘s embrace of many different styles of music. He gave the first performance in the Arab world of his concerto for ‘oud and Western classical orchestra with the Syrian National Symphony Orchestra. He played a selection from his most popular recording, Blue Flame, with guest jazz musicians. The children of the Nimreen Ensemble also joined him in a medley of tunes rooted in the Arab classical tradition and cross-cultural world music.

"I was impressed by the enthusiasm and potential of those young musicians," said Shaheen, after conducting music workshops for Palestine refugee children in Yarmouk and Neirab Camps.

Welcoming the audience to the concert, Filippo Grandi, Deputy Commissioner-General of UNRWA, explained that World Refugee Day was created to remember and acknowledge refugees for their courage in rebuilding their lives, and to celebrate their contribution to the community. "This concert is also part of UNRWA@60 activities. For sixty years, UNRWA has worked toward a better future for Palestine refugees, and today plays a pivotal role in their intellectual, physical, social and economic development across the region. "Grandi said.

Proceeds from ticket sales will go to the "For the Children of Gaza Campaign", launched by UNRWA in January in cooperation with the Syrian Government and partners from the private sector and civil society.

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Background Information

UNRWA is a United Nations agency established by the General Assembly in 1949 and is mandated to provide assistance and protection to a population of some 5 million registered Palestine refugees. Its mission is to help Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank and the Gaza Strip to achieve their full potential in human development, pending a just solution to their plight. UNRWA’s services encompass education, health care, relief and social services, camp infrastructure and improvement, and microfinance.

Financial support to UNRWA has not kept pace with an increased demand for services caused by growing numbers of registered refugees, expanding need, and deepening poverty. As a result, the Agency's General Fund (GF), supporting UNRWA’s core activities and 97 per cent reliant on voluntary contributions, has begun each year with a large projected deficit. Currently the deficit stands at US$ 70.5 million.

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