WASHINGTON (AFP) - Some of them call an orphanage home. One used to spend her days selling plastic bags. And this month, the Afghan teenagers are taking the stage of the most prestigious US concert halls. In a vivid sign of Afghanistan’s transformation, 48 students from the country’s first music institute are touring the United States to showcase a unique blend of restored traditional music and Western classics.

When Milad Yousufi was a child, the Taliban ruled most of Afghanistan and banned music. He took up piano five years ago and recently placed third at an international competition in Germany. “Music is the only thing we can bring peace by,” said the 18-year-old, who wears his hair fashionably long and counts Claudio Arrau and Vladimir Horowitz among his piano heroes. “If the media just broadcast war, that is the image of Afghanistan. If we make music, the idea of people will change,” he said in fluent English.  The Afghanistan National Institute of Music, which was founded in 2010, instructs 144 students, each of whom earned their spots through auditions.  They study not only music but also English and other courses from the Koran to computers.

The students will perform at the Kennedy Center in Washington on Thursday, and, on February 12, they will be at New York’s Carnegie Hall.

One musical selection will be a version of Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons,” adapted by instructor William Harvey with Afghan instrumentation.