The dramatic story of a Syrian guitar quartet escaping the ongoing destruction of the Syrian civil war for an Artist Protection Fund Fellowship at the University of Victoria offers a remarkable message about the power of music, hope and determination.
Orwa Al Sharaa, Gaby Al Botros, Nazir Salameh and Mir Mahmoud met while studying at the Higher Institute of Music in Damascus in 2012 and 2013. In 2015, three of these musicians attended a music workshop called Yes Academy Lebanon at the University of Notre Dame Louaize in Beirut, where they met the American guitarist and composer Susan McDonald, who teaches in conflict zones. McDonald suggested they ask a fourth musician they knew from Damascus to join them, and in 2015 the Orontes Guitar Quartet was formed.
McDonald runs a small foundation called Remember the River that supports artists in dangerous regions. She encouraged Orontes to apply to the Artist Protection Fund (APF) that provides threatened artists fellowship grants and innovative residency programs at academic or cultural institutions in safe countries.
Bringing the Orontes Guitar Quartet to Victoria, B.C. is the first time the APF has placed an artist in Canada as well as the first time it designed a residency program for a group rather than an individual artist.
Alexander Dunn, an internationally renowned guitarist and University of Victoria (UVic) music instructor, worked closely for 12 months with the two U.S. organizations, Remember the River and the APF, to enable the Orontes Guitar Quartet to come to UVic’s School of Music in November 2018.
The Quartet has performed at many concerts including an appearance with the Syrian Philharmonic. Their musical styles include blues, jazz, flamenco, baroque, classical, Latin music and folklore. The musicians have worked as teaching assistants in Lebanon and taught a guitar program for Syrian refugees.
Orontes Guitar Quartet will perform at St. Bart’s in Gibsons on Saturday, March 16 at 7 p.m. and on Sunday March 17 at 3 p.m. Both performances are sold out but there may be a limited number of tickets available at the door.