The Iranian


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Sehaty Foreign Exchange

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Persian music masters

By Geoff Chapman
The Toronto Star
January 25, 2001

Go to fabled Persia. Head for gloried India.

Or stay in Toronto to enjoy a taste of their magnificent music.

Four of Iran's most celebrated musicians perform tonight and tomorrow at the Toronto Centre For The Arts (formerly the Ford Centre) to kick-start their first North American tour as a group.

With the second night just added, it's obvious the musicians' reputations are a known quantity to an audience that rarely gets the chance to hear them live. The ancient music tradition is very much alive in contemporary Iran, a country where knowledge of mystical poets like Rumi is common and impressively scored movies are being produced. Persian music is sometimes improvised and is played with great intensity.

Billed as Masters Of Persian Music, the quartet's best-known members are singer Mohammad Reza Shajarian and Kayhan Kalhor on kamencheh (a round- bottomed, spiked fiddle). Kahlor will also play four concerts of new Iranian music with cellist Yo-Yo Ma and the New York Philharmonic next month.

Shajarian, dubbed "the nightingale," is regarded as the country's leading exponent of classical Persian singing, his expressive tenor ornamenting intricate lines with anguished passion. You can experience this on the recent Traditional Crossroads CD Night Silence Desert.

With impeccable technique and vast knowledge of ancient poetry, Shajarian became a national figure after television appearances in the 1970s. He became even more famous, after the 1979 revolution that ousted the Shah, with his frequent radio concerts, many which have subsequently been released on records.

By age 13, Kalhor was playing fiddle for Iran's national orchestra, and four years later was with the prestigious Shayda Ensemble. Simultaneously he studied Persian music theory (the radif) and travelled the country learning regional musics, including Kurdish folk music, which he considers his specialty.

Later he studied Western classical music in Rome and at Ottawa's Carleton University, where he received a music degree.

He and his groups (such as Ghazal with Indian sitar master Shujaat Khan) have won many awards and have performed internationally. His frequent solo performances have won acclaim.

Also in the group are Shajarian's son Homayoun, who plays tombak (a small drum) and sings, and Hossein Alizadeh on tar (flute), who has been conductor and soloist for the Iranian National Orchestra for Radio and Television. He is a prolific composer.

Says Kalhor: "The secret of this music's survival is that it adapts and functions in contemporary society. Often you learn a piece of poetry with a melody because they're inseparable.

"The music should be heard as an artistic process. It doesn't matter if you can't understand the words but somebody who understands the poetry will understand more. It leaves marks on your heart because you get the essence of the music."

Tickets: 416-870-8000. Tour schedule info:

Among the most successful world music pioneers in these parts is the Toronto Tabla Ensemble, founded in 1991 by tabla master Ritesh Das. Their tenth anniversary will be marked by concerts tomorrow and Saturday at Harbourfront's du Maurier Theatre (tickets 416-973-4000).

Since its inception the group has released three CDs, and a fourth is imminent. Guests performing with the group this weekend will be guitarist Levon Ichkhanian and bassist Ian de Sousa.


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