|An Iranian Musician Composes Songs of Peace
Thank the famous Iranian singer Shahram Nazeri for helping to popularize Rumi, a 13th century Middle Eastern poet whose verses about finding an inner god struck a chord with New Agers in the West. “When my father sang Rumi everybody laughed at him. Now, Madonna sings Rumi, too,” says Nazeri’s son Hafez.
The junior Nazeri predicts a similar cultural makeover for Ferdowsi, whose first millennium epic poetry is said to have inspired C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, not to mention countless Eastern writers and artists. Hafez Nazeri has written the verse of Rumi and Ferdowsi into compositions that make their New York debut Saturday night at Carnegie Hall, where the Nazeri will present a concert called Iranian Sounds of Peace.
For the performance, the 30-year-old composer and musician has assembled a pan-national ensemble, including himself, his father and members of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. Nazeri first staged a version of the concert last month in Los Angeles.
His goal has been to combine Western classical music and Middle Eastern music. “Most of the time when two cultures come together, one dominates the other,” he says, adding that his work represents “essentially a new music.”
Such fusion doesn’t come easy. The musicians spent about four months in rehearsals as the classical players absorbed Middle Eastern techniques, which incorporate different rhythms and harmonies, and invite embellishments and improvisation. Part of the rehearsal process: asking his classically-trained colleagues to ignore the sheet music. Nazeri says, “You close your eyes and translate the moment into the music.”
Nazeri was raised in Tehran, where he absorbed the lessons of his father’s circle of virtuosos. He relocated to New York about 10 years ago, giving up the high life as the Iranian equivalent of “Michael Jackson’s son,” he says, and a successful music career of his own. Shortly after 9/11, he enrolled in the Manhattan School of Music, where he steered clear of the expatriate community and pursued his musical ambition to “show another dimension of Iran.”
Back home, however, many view his music with deep skepticism, he says, because Persian folk musicians are so reverential of tradition. But the music’s attachment to history is what’s holding it back on the world stage, Nazeri says. “That’s been the issue with Persian music that never evolved. How come Indian music could introduce itself to the world? Or Arabic or African music? Why not Persian music?”
By john jurgensen