“Music can make us laugh, make us cry, make us march into war. I want to make music to make us realise peace.” So says oud maestro and composer Rahim AlHaj in the liner notes of his 2017 album Letters From Iraq, eight pieces for oud, string quintet and percussion, inspired by actual letters about his homeland torn apart and collected by his nephew Zainab.

AlHaj and five cutting-edge young Aussie musicians, led by violinist Anna Da Silva Chen, with New Zealand-based US percussionist Justin DeHart, performed this extremely moving suite – a happy marriage of Western and Middle Eastern musical disciplines – in the latest of the excellent, intimate Utzon Music series of chamber music recitals at Sydney Opera House.

Rahim AlHaj

Letters From Iraq: Rahim AlHaj, Utzon Music, Sydney Opera House, 2022. Photo © Jaimi Joy

Many of the 200 or so audience members joined AlHaj in tears at some of the more heart-rending musical tales, including one of how Zainab, who was born prematurely with mobility problems, was caught up in a car bomb incident while...