‘My homeland is torn and I want to heal it’: meet the inspiring Syrian musician making a new life in the UK

15 February 2018, 12:06 | Updated: 20 July 2018, 10:30

By Lizzie Davis

Raghad Haddad is a viola player from Syria. We spoke to her about her amazing story and what life’s like for refugee musicians from the UK

On 1 March at St John’s Smith Square the London Phoenix Orchestra performed a concert to raise money for ‘Help Refugees’.

But what made this concert particularly special, is that one of the soloists is herself a Syrian refugee.

Raghad Haddad was born in Syria and studied viola at the Higher Institute of Music in Damascus. She went on to teach viola at the institute and joined the Syrian National Symphony Orchestra.

In 2016 the orchestra toured Europe, including an appearance at Glastonbury. After the tour Raghad and eight of her fellow musicians presented themselves at border control and requested asylum.

“For me, I just decided to stay in the UK to have a much safer place,” she told Classic FM. “We were not in good conditions in Syria, life wasn’t safe – and unfortunately it’s still unsafe. I’m so sorry for some of my friends and my family who are there.”

Raghad will be performing Bruch’s Concerto for Viola and Clarinet with the orchestra, with clarinettist Sheena Balmain.

But she also performs Syrian classical music with the London Syrian Ensemble, something she thinks is important:

“It’s so important to play Syrian music in the UK – it’s the music of our homeland and it holds so much love from our homeland as well. So it’s lovely to perform it and get it to be known here.”

The orchestra with the London Phoenix Orchestra came about when Raghad shared a desk with one of its players, Susannah Rang.

Raghad explained that she hoped the concert would raise awareness about the plight of refugees, and those still living in Syria.

“It’s lovely to remember the people in Syria and wish them peace, through music – playing music is the only thing I can do.

“I know it’s not easy to feel every situation but for me it’s important to pass on this message: my homeland is torn and I want to heal it in any way.”