The Iraqi National Symphony Orchestra (INSO) will perform a free concert tonight at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

The Iraqi National Symphony Orchestra (INSO) will perform a free concert tonight at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

Joined by cellist Yo-Yo Ma--an ambassador for the U.S. State Department's CultureConnect program--and the National Symphony Orchestra (NSO), the musicians will play a program of Beethoven, Bizet, Faure and contemporary and traditional Iraqi compositions. NSO music director Leonard Slatkin and INSO conductor Mohammed Amin Ezzat will take turns at the podium.

The event is being co-sponsored by the Kennedy Center and the State Department, which are splitting the costs of the trip. Organizers and musicians say the concert will boost the visibility of Iraqi artists and help build cultural bridges between the nations.

The concert is the first scheduled event in a State Department initiative to restore cultural exchange with Iraq since UN sanctions were imposed on the country 13 years ago.

"I believe the people of Iraq deserve a thriving arts community," says Michael Kaiser, the president of the Kennedy Center, who also serves as a State Department Cultural Ambassador. "I hope these first conversations set the stage for an ongoing dialogue with Iraqi arts groups."