It’s a seemingly simple approach to one of the modern world’s most complicated political problems: By marrying the dainty lutes of the East with thrumming violas of the West, composer Hafez Nazeri says he wants to create harmony between the U.S. and his native Iran.
Nazeri’s troupe of musicians from East and West, The Rumi Symphony Project, premiered his new symphony in Los Angeles last month and will perform it Saturday at Carnegie Hall in New York City.
“We’re hearing all about nuclear weapons and all these crazy things,” said Nazeri. “Look at us, people who come together from different cultures, different musical backgrounds and we all create love together, for you, for the world.”
Nazeri’s father, Shahram Nazeri, a famed classical singer known as Iran’s Pavarotti, is scheduled to perform “Cycle One: Iranian Sounds of Peace” alongside his son and classical musicians from the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.
In the piece, violin strains are punctuated with the rumble of the daf, a hand drum ringed with metal pieces that tremble when it is struck. At times, the string instruments of East and West are plucked in sync in a style that could be considered controversial.
Cultural authorities in the Islamic Republic of Iran have worked to prevent foreign influence for decades, in backlash to the previous regime of the Shah, often criticized for being pro-Western.
Though easily purchased on the black market, Western-style pop music is banned under Islamic rule, frowned on by austere mullahs for its sensual female solo singers and frivolity.
But blending cultures in music is now natural to Hafez Nazeri, 30, who moved to the U.S. 10 years ago and where he’s studied Western music, collaborated with American artists and fallen in love with New York City.
Even the instrument Hafez Nazeri performs on is a traditional Persian instrument he’s improvised by adding two strings to increase the Persian setar’s range.
Hafez and his father are among the few artists allowed to travel freely and perform and record music inside Iran. His political views are strictly pragmatic and pacifistic — what concerns him isn’t so much who governs Iran, but that all Iranians can live safely in their country.
Shahram Nazeri’s music has escaped harsh censorship, in part because he sings the poetry of Iran’s great poets to traditional music. His album “Gol-e-Sad Barg” sold 40 million copies and even in the most far-flung villages of Iran, small children can sing his renditions of Rumi’s poetry.
At the premiere performance of the new fusion symphony in Los Angeles, the performance earned standing ovations from an audience of mostly Iranian expatriates.
One audience member, an elderly gentleman who stormed out during the third act, groused loudly during an intermission that the music “may be opera, or it may be disco, but it is not Iranian!”
But it brought others to tears. Thundering applause continued at the end of the performance until Shahram Nazeri came out to sing a few of his best-known tunes for encores.
The father briefly obliged those who repeatedly called out for him to sing “Iran-e-Kohan” or “Original Iran,” a song that regained popularity as a soundtrack for YouTube videos of violent street demonstrations following Iran’s June 12 elections.
The song first became popular during Iran’s eight year war with Iraq in the 1980s, with lyrics that sing “The world watches for the freedom of Iranians/Be aware, the original Iranians are in danger.”
The audience grew still after Shahram Nazeri sang the first few lines of the mournful song. Appearing to sense the darkening of the auditorium’s mood, he quickly broke from the tune, and finished on two upbeat favorites as the audience sang along and then roared with approval.
by The Associated Press