A group of Syrian guitarists performed at the Arrowsmith Baptist Church in Port Alberni last weekend, opening a sold-out season for the Alberni Classical Concerts Society.
The Orontes Guitar Quartet took the stage on Saturday, Oct. 5, playing to a crowd of more than 180. The group has a unique story, having escaped the ongoing destruction of the Syrian civil war through fellowships arranged by the Artist Protection Fund. The APF, based in New York, supports threatened artists around the world by providing grants and arranging residency programs at academic institutions in “safe” countries. The Orontes Guitar Quartet received a grant for a one-year fellowship at the University of Victoria’s School of Music in November 2018.
The APF, explained guitarist Orwa Al Sharaa, usually places artists in the United States. This is the first time a group has been placed in Canada—a result of the new travel ban in the U.S.
“We were lucky, because we came here to Canada instead,” said Al Sharaa on Saturday.
The name of the group is based on the Orontes or Al Assi River, which begins in Lebanon and flows through Syria and Turkey before entering the Mediterranean Sea.
Their musical style is described as a mix of blues, jazz, flamenco, baroque, classical, Latin music and folk. Saturday’s concert showcased their range, as they performed everything from Mozart and Georges Bizet’s Carmen Suite to a “pretty new” techno-inspired piece (fittingly called, “Techno”).
Michael Kozlow, president and artistic director for the Alberni Classical Concerts Society, said that the society heard about the quartet because they had been performing shows across Canada.
“We thought it was a good opportunity to have them while they were still here,” he said. “We heard good reviews, so we were very happy to book them.”
Saturday marked the first of four classical concerts this season at the Arrowsmith Baptist Church. The Trio d’Argento will perform on Jan. 24, followed by the Elmer Iseler Singers on March 15 and Buzz Brass on May 1.
Kozlow said that the society has sold exactly 180 subscriptions this year, which is the number of subscription cards that had been printed. In addition, the society gave out nine complimentary subscriptions for the season and three complimentary admissions to the Orontes Guitar Quartet.
“It’s a nice feeling, that we sold everything we printed,” said Kozlow.
Last year’s subscriptions totalled 149.
Refreshments were available on Saturday by donation, which went to one of the Arrowsmith Baptist Church’s charities. A total of $220 was raised for the Bread of Life.