Greek-Turkish Youth Orchestra celebrates 10 years of building cultural ties

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Ten years ago, Leni Konialidis brought together a group of young Greek and Turkish musicians with the belief that through music, longstanding rivalries could be overcome and friendship could flourish.

Ten years later, the Greek-Turkish Youth Orchestra (GTYO) toured Greece for its tenth year this September as an exemplar of intercultural dialogue that builds bridges of communication over the Aegean Sea.

From Sept. 1 to 8, the 60-member ensemble comprised of an equal number of Greek and Turkish young artists held five concerts in Rhodes, Crete, Elefsina and Athens, spreading the message of peaceful coexistence and cooperation.

Shortly before the closing performance at Zappeion hall in the Greek capital, Xinhua talked to the GTYO founder and president, along with this season's conductor Zoe Zeniodi and the young musicians about how music brings people closer together.

"I believe music is a universal language that allows people to communicate without their own language and nationality. It is very beautiful to see in this Greek-Turkish orchestra how the musicians have occasions to meet each other, to make friendships through music, and all boundaries are forgotten," Konialidis said.

A mother of three, Konialidis noticed how all her children stopped fighting as soon as they started playing music together. Music also helped her children integrate while the family was living in Uruguay.

She said music had the power to change relationships and foster understanding and that when people from different backgrounds play classical concertos or symphonies, they can discover common ground.

"I think this is very important for the future, the world we are living in. Maybe it is not a solution for everything, but it is a beautiful thing for the youth," she said.

The members of GTYO are chosen each year by the maestro through video recordings. They meet for the first time for rehearsals about a week before the first concert. After performing in Greece or Turkey, they return home.

Konialidis said that when it came to how the cultural experience affected the children, she said they went away with new friendships, good memories, and a new perspective on each other's nations.

"I think it affects them enormously. First of all, Greeks and Turks do not have an occasion to meet. So just the fact of meeting, they discover other cultures, other countries," Konialidis said.

"I think the mission is to develop friendships and to develop relations between the youth and be able to listen to each other and to live in harmony," she said.

Cellist Gokce Bahar Oytun, 27, was one of the soloists on this year's tour. She joined GTYO four years ago upon an invitation by Turkish maestro Cem Mansur who was the conductor of the ensemble at the time.

She said music promoted unity and helped make differences disappear.

"When we are playing in the orchestra, we just want to share music and do our best for music. So it is just about being one," she said, adding there were no differences between humans.

Timoleon Kimon Anastasiadis, 25, plays the violin, and joined GTYO for first time this year.

He said of the long-held prejudices on both sides of the Aegean that when he returned to Cologne to continue his studies, he hoped that he had helped a little to break them.

"It was a very beautiful experience, because you can see how many things we have in common with the Turkish people after all," he told Xinhua.

"Indeed, there is nothing dividing us. The beautiful thing is that this also stands for the Turks. They also see us like brothers," he said about his new friendships.

"Music unites, music builds bridges, it is music that brings us closer," Zeniodi said.

She said she felt lucky to have the chance to see it happening before her eyes at GTYO. She sees for herself the striking difference between the young people who meet each other on the first day and how they embrace each other pledging to keep in touch at the end.

"Prejudices? Yes, it is possible for some people, depending on how they were brought up and based on what we are hearing," she commented.

"Music cannot make everything alone. This is certain. We need other things also and it is not our job to do everything. We can do this part -- concerts, rehearsals, work together -- so that we can take the world a few steps forward," the conductor said.

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