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Northampton concert to promote peace canceled after concerning text message and a burst heating pipe

When concertgoers arrived at a church in Northampton, Massachusetts, Saturday they found the doors locked and the concert canceled — in part because one of the performers had received a potentially threatening text.

Western Massachusetts poet and painter Jehann El-Bisi and Karim Wasfi, known as the "cellist of Baghdad," had planned to present music and poetry as a "celebration" of the "yearning for peace." It was part of Wasfi's "people-to-people cultural arts exchange between the US and Iraq," according to a press advisory.

But a few days before the concert, El-Bisi received a text that — at first — she just found confusing.

"I reported it to an organizer [of the event] who felt that it was serious enough to report to the police, which I did," El-Bisi said.

NEPM has been unable to confirm the content of the text for publication.

The First Churches of Northampton had rented out space for the concert. Pastor Sarah Buteux wrote in an email that after discovering a burst heating pipe Saturday afternoon and because "the organizers were having misgivings about going ahead," the event was called off.

Wasfi decided to hold an impromptu concert in Thornes Market, across the street.

Wasfi is known for playing cello in a neighborhood that had been bombed in Baghdad in 2015. He is also the conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra in Iraq.

Northampton police did not respond to a request for information.

Updated: May 10, 2022 at 9:47 AM EDT
Nancy Eve Cohen is a senior reporter focusing on Berkshire County. Earlier in her career she was NPR’s Midwest editor in Washington, D.C., managing editor of the Northeast Environmental Hub and recorded sound for TV networks on global assignments, including the war in Sarajevo and an interview with Fidel Castro.