By Yari Ostovany
October 27, 2000
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
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
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.