Mosul's Watar Orchestra brings restored university theatre to life

An audience of more than 1,000 turned out to hear opening performance in the northern Iraq venue destroyed by ISIS

The Watar Orchestra performs at the opening of the University of Mosul's newly restored Grand Theatre. Reuters

Music flowed through the University of Mosul campus on Thursday night, as the city's Watar Orchestra gave the first performance in the restored Grand Theatre.

The theatre is the biggest hall in northern Iraq's Nineveh governorate, with about 1,500 seats. It was severely damaged by ISIS, after the extremist group seized Mosul in 2014. They were driven out in 2017.

“A concert in the recently rehabilitated theatre of the campus feels so good because a few years ago it was a heap of rubble, ashes, as ISIS burnt the infrastructure of the campus,” University of Mosul professor Ali Al Baroodi told The National after the concert.

More than 1,000 people turned out to hear what was only the third public performance by the Watar Orchestra. The concert was also live-streamed. Pictures and videos posted on social media showed the theatre filled with people clapping and singing.

The orchestra was formed in 2020 and brings together young local musicians from diverse religious and social backgrounds to celebrate the fusion of Iraqi music.

“It felt great to be in a place with people representing Nineveh's various colours,” Mr Baroodi said. “It feels good that music is back again and that the orchestra is filled with young, talented musicians.”

He said it was a joy to listen to the classical and traditional music of Nineveh and Iraq's Kurdish region and from all over the country.

“The theatre is back, the central library is back, it's better than before ISIS took over.”

Life at the University of Mosul “is flowing again”, Mr Baroodi said.

Work to restore the university's theatre began in 2019 under the UN Development Programme's Funding Facility for Stabilisation, with financial support from Germany through KFW Development Bank.

The reopening concert coincided with the first day of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, prompting Iraqi historian Omar Mohammed to send a message of solidarity to Ukrainians.

“I hesitated to publish this as Ukraine is under brutal attack, but I want to tell my fellow Ukrainians that dictators and oppressors will never win,” Mr Mohammed wrote on the Mosul Eye Twitter account that he used to inform the world about life under ISIS rule in his city.

“Never lose hope; never allow them to destroy your dreams,” he said.

“It is important to remember that now is the time to activate, 'Trust no one, document everything.' You should document everything. This war will end, but the pursuit of justice will not stop. Collect, preserve and protect,” Mr Mohammed said.

Updated: February 25, 2022, 5:05 PM