On March 14, the Oakland East Bay Symphony across San Francisco held a very special classical performance dedicated to Iranian composers of the modern era. I don't know of any other symphony in the west that has done this, or at least in a long time. This program was called "Notes from Persia", and featured a wonderful Iranian piano soloist, Tara Kamangar; an extraordinary vocalist, Raeeka Shehabi-Yaghmai; and the work of two important Iranian composers: Aminollah Hossein and Loris Tjeknavorian. [Program details]
Michael Morgan, the extremely talented and innovative conductor of Oakland East Bay Symphony, got the idea for this concert from one of his staff members, who is Iranian. Since this has never been done before, it was very hard to predict the turnout for this concert. Well, thanks to the support of so many interested Iranians and other nationalities who were curious about Iran's music, this ended up being one of the most popular concerts of the Symphony's history (the event was sold out).
The concert started with a piece from Richard Strauss, which was nicely done as usual by the Symphony. Then came the appearance of the guest piano soloist Tara Kamangar, who resides in the UK. I was stunned watching her so gracefully play the difficult "Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini" by Sergei Rachmaninoff. It was almost like from her shoulders to her fingertips there were no joints! This flawless and beautiful performance brought the audience to a standing ovation, and led to an intermission were people were clearly excited.
During the intermission I saw many of my friends, Iranians, Americans, and others, that had come from all over the San Francisco Bay Area, and I was very happy to see so much interest and support for our culture when the chance comes. The second half was opened by a very thoughtful speech by Michael Morgan, who explained how a simple idea in a meeting grew into such rich concert with so many wonderful guests just by person to person connections and suggestions, which he was told was a very Persian trait anyway. He then said that some have asked him if such concerts could lead to peace between our countries. His response was "I don't know, but if as people we could connect together directly, then we don't have to rely on our two governments to tell us what to think of each other". This statement pretty much brought the house down as everyone cheered and applauded enthusiastically.
And this set the stage for the appearance of Mrs. Shehabi-Yaghmai, who sang a beautiful rendition of traditional Persian folk songs (such as Goleh Pamchal, Sarzamineh Man, Shekare Ahoo) in an opera arrangement created by David Garner in 1954. This powerful performance got many Iranians choked up as we were transported instantly to our childhoods, and moved music lovers of all nationalities with its eclectic mix of western and Persian melodies. Then came Ms. Kamangar's second masterpiece- the performance of Aminollah Hossein's Piano Concerto No. 2, Opus 45, where she once again delivered so smoothly and beautifully the unique mix of western classical and Persian melodies of this great composer of the 20th century. He would indeed have been proud.
The grand finale of this show was the very powerful suite from the opera "Rostam and Sohrab", written by a living legend of Iranian classical music- the Iranian Armenian composer, Loris Tjeknavorian. Mr. Tjeknavorian traveled all the way from Iran for this show, and gave a talk at the beginning which unfortunately I missed, but I heard was very entertaining. Michael Morgan brought the entire theater to life as he led the orchestra through periods of love, war, drama, and tragedy that make the Shahnameh epic of Rostam and Sohrab such perfect material for opera. At the end of the show, Mr. Tjeknavorian came out with the rest of the guest musicians, and was visibly pleased and gleaming by the way his music had come to life once again in front of an international audience, who were responding with a long, loud standing ovation.
We are all proud to be Iranians, but that night I was especially proud to see such immense talent from so many generations of our country, living quietly inside and outside Iran, and really showing our best face to the world. I also felt very privileged to witness live an Iranian living music legend in Mr. Tjeknavorian (thanks also to Persian Center who sponsored his travel). In an era where when it comes to Iran, we are bombarded from all sides by large amounts of noise and negativity, it is very refreshing to hear what brings us all together - our music. Thank you Oakland East Bay Symphony, thank you Mr. Tjeknavorian, Ms. Kamangar, and Mrs. Shehabi-Yaghmai, and thank you Michael Morgan. Bravo!
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