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By Yari Ostovany
October 27, 2000
The Iranian

I have always looked forward to Mohammad Reza Shajarian's concerts. So I was overjoyed when I heard that he, along with his son Homayoun, and Hossein Alizadeh and Kayhan Kalhor, were going to be performing in Koln, my new home after my recent move from San Francisco. Music here

The concert was unique as the first part was in a new form called "Maghameh Dad-o-Bidad", which consisted of a strong improvisational adaptation of Mehdi Akhavan Saless's poem "Zemestan" (Winter), a poem so eternally etched in the modern Persian psyche.

The performance was forcefully expressive, at times bordering on poetic narration more than the traditional Avaz. I recall Shahram Nazeri tackled Sohrab Sepehri's "Dar Golestaneh" poem with mixed results. He also attempted setting "Zemestan" to music with, in my opinion, mediocre results. Shajarian's interpretation, however, connected with the essence of the poem.

Although the tone painting (describing the visual imagery and feelings musically) by Alizadeh was not as strong as I expected. The second part offered four Tasnifs as well as improvisations on compositions by Alizadeh. I have seen Alizadeh in much better form on many occasions before and I know that he is capable of much more that he offered that evening. He looked pale and I suspect that he was ill.

Kalhor is wonderful as a Kamancheh virtuoso but needs time to mature as a musician and go beyond sheer virtuosity. The journey from craftsmanship to art, one that Alizadeh has successfully made.

I saw the performance of a piece that Kalhor had written for and played with the Kronos quartet last year and was left wondering why he only used the Kronos as the backdrop to the Kamancheh rather than try a new texture between the instruments. The Kronos quartet is world famous for championing avant-garde contemporary pieces. Kalhor's piece alas, used the Kronos much in the same way Kambiz Roshanravan uses strings to back up the Tar or Setar in his compositions.

In this concert when Kalhor and Alizadeh were engaged in heated instrumental duets, they would be jamming aimlessly and really exhausting the phases or the variations they were developing; often it became only a duel of virtuosos. Very little, if any, polyphony and counterpoint were involved. Both of these elements were much more present in the vocal sections.

But the night, belonged to the Shajarians. Homayoun is now arguably the crown prince of Iranian vocal art. With a beautiful voice and excellent technique, his phrasing and his "Tahrirs" are very similar to his father's.

Shajarian the elder has benefited from the experience of many of our greatest vocalists from Taj Esfahani and Zelli, to Ghamar and Banan as well as many instrumental masters such as Ebadi and Payvar. His work is the distillation of our contemporary classical vocal tradition. This is what is passing on to Homayoun.

Homayoun's voice is still young and not fully forged yet. But I could not imagine a more promising beginning. When they sang duets it was really confusing. If you closed your eyes you could not tell the two voices apart.

Just as many in my generation have been enchanted by the art and voice of Shajarian, we can now expect that this tradition will continue for the benefit of our children.

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