German orchestra to make rare visit to Iran

A German symphony orchestra will play classics by Beethoven, Elgar and Brahms in Iran this week - a rare visit from a European ensemble amid political tensions between the Islamic republic and the West. The 60-member Osnabrueck Symphony Orchestra, led by conductor Hermann Baeumer, will arrive Monday and perform Wednesday and Thursday in Teheran as the return half of an exchange that saw the Teheran Symphony Orchestra perform to a packed hall last year in Osnabrueck. The tensions between Iran and Western governments - including Germany - have been over efforts to halt Teheran's program to enrich uranium and US accusations that Iran supplies militants with training and equipment to attack American forces in neighboring Iraq. Michael Dreyer, head of the Morgenland, or Orient, Festival in Osnabrueck that hosted the Iranians last year, said he hoped the concerts would remain nonpolitical cultural events. "It's a very small step in improving relations between the people in the two countries," he said. As required in Iran, the female German musicians will play in headscarves - as did the Iranian female musicians when they visited Osnabrueck - and the program was submitted to Iranian authorities ahead of time.