Andrew H. Walker, Getty Images Nine days after the deadly tornado that touched…
- Posted on Aug 28th 2007 11:00AM by Steve Hochman
Then Delshad repeated his speech in English. This time when he mentioned the celebs, many of those for whom English is the primary language laughed a little, seemingly a bit embarrassed that the mystic tone had been sullied by their culture's vulgarity.
Maybe this is a good illustration of the worlds Hafez Nazeri is seeking to bridge with 'In the Path of Rumi,' an installment in his ongoing Rumi Symphony Project marking the 800th anniversary of the Persian poet's birth. Maybe not. But it at least sets a scene.
"I think it's wonderful that people like Madonna and Demi Moore got interested in Rumi," he said a few days after the concert. "There are people like Rumi, Beethoven, Picasso, who are timeless, and no matter what culture they're from, which time period, they belong to the world. They can go beyond boundaries. Rumi is very important for Persian culture, an important element in our history. But I personally do not consider Rumi a Persian voice. His poetry is universal."
Nazeri's goal is to achieve the same with his music, to keep it rooted in Persian culture but take it well beyond. "My music is not Persian anymore," he said. "This is what I have done to it to make it universal."
To that end, the program at Disney Hall didn't merely incorporate both Persian and Western styles, it gene-spliced them, Iranian quarter tones and Western classical scales weaving together with unexpected naturalness. In fact, the Nazeris were the only Iranian musicians onstage, and the setar -- the long-necked, four-string cousin of the lute -- was the only Iranian instrument featured, mostly in the hands of Hafez. The first half of the night featured the Nazeris along with violist Liu Wen Ting and cellist Ben Hong (both of the Los Angeles Philharmonic) and two percussionists (Afghanistan-born Salar Nader and Iraqi Hussein Zahawy) all showing dazzling technique in a wide range of musical styles and emotions. The second half added Louise Schulman on viola and the Baroque viola d'amore, Dennis Karmazyn on cello and David Allen Moore on double bass.
Hafez Nazeri, who was born in Iran but lives in New York, explained that his goal was to avoid what he considers the pitfall of most attempts at cross-cultural hybrids, such as violinist Yehudi Menuhin's famed '60s and '70s 'West Meets East' collaborations with Indian sitar legend Ravi Shankar. "None of the [Western] instruments were imitating sounds of Persian instruments in my pieces but were playing the styles of Western classical music," he said. "This is a new music, a new time. This has features of Baroque, features of 19th century classical, elements of jazz, rhythms inside the pieces are really complex."
The opening half included 'The Journey' (the first part of which, 'Metamorphosis,' was inspired by the Kafka novel of the same name), moving from a vocal-setar duet to a multicultural ensemble revolving around robust, Kurdish-sounding singing) and the four-movement instrumental 'Eternal Return,' which wound into intricate musical knots. And the second-half world premiere of a composition titled 'Eternity' slid back and forth between Persian and Baroque chamber music structures but in a way in which it was never possible to identify the exact points of transition. Rather, it was a musical continuum -- a very neat trick and tough to pull off. ('In the Path of Rumi' is yet to be recorded, but a new CD titled 'The Passion of Rumi,' while more traditional Persian-leaning, is a good starting point to experience Nazeri's music.)
And another neat trick to Nazeri's mind was keeping both sides of the audience's cultural equation engaged. On the one hand, there were the Persians drawn first and foremost by the presence of his father, a true star. "I think 65 to 70 percent of the audience was Persian, people who have memories of my father and they want to hear my father's most famous songs, and they get completely new music," he said.
On the other, there was the matter of holding the attention of the Westerners unused to at least some of the Persian foundations. "This was one concert for one hour and 50 minutes all in a single key," he added. "In Western classical music, how many things stay in the same key for more than two minutes?"
But whatever the expectations individuals held, the reaction was universal: a standing ovation of unbridled enthusiasm. Hafez proudly related, "My father said that after 35 years of performing around the world, this is the first time he has seen a response like that."
And Madonna was nowhere in sight.