Through music, we engage students on human rights topics including immigration and asylum, the rights of the child, access to water and food, the right to culture, and freedom of expression. At the center of the project is a commissioned musical composition on the theme, written to be rehearsed and performed by student and professional musicians seated side by side. Human rights experts join school teachers in classroom studies of the topic, examining historical and contemporary issues and human rights principles.
Human Rights Orchestra musicians guide rehearsals with the students, culminating in a free public performance for the entire community. Donations are solicited at the concert, and the students discuss and vote among themselves for human rights organizations to receive the funds raised.
On the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide in April 2014, a four-day residency occurred with high school students of the Kantonschule Reussbeuhl in Lucerne, Switzerland, on the theme of the right to culture. In a project underwritten by the Lucerne Festival, composer Riccardo Panfili created a new work, The Last Land, incorporating a Rwandan lullaby and the text of a song written by young Rwandan music trainers titled Umuco, "Culture".
The students studied the original recording and video of Umuco made by the Rwandan young adults, prepared their own performance of the song, and shared their performance live by Skype video conference.
The younger students were introduced to human rights definitions, principles, and issues. The older students were engaged in a discussion of the Rwandan genocide, how the arts can be manipulated and abused for political ends, threats to the survival of culture, and the human right to culture.
Three days of intense rehearsals included a performance in the school auditorium for the entire school and faculty.
The students also encountered the musicians in small group meetings, without instruments, to become acquainted with the musicians' lives and values.
The residency concluded with a free public performance in Lucerne. The concert featured the world premiere of Riccardo Panfili's The Last Land. The audience viewed a video of the Rwandan youths' performance of their original song Umuco that was followed by live performance of the Lucerne students' rendition. The program also included works by composers whose music was banned or labeled as destabilizing to public order: Felix Mendelssohn, Rudolf Karel, Gyorgy Ligeti, and Bela Bartok.