Saturday, January 27, 2007

Kayhan Kalhor and Siamak Aghaei

Kayhan Kalhor is Persian music's only international star - he's worked with Yo Yo Ma, the Kronos Quartet and a variety of other cross-cultural projects. However on a recent evening the program was purely Persian. Kalhor, who plays the kamancheh (spike fiddle) was joined by Siamak Aghaei on santur. The results were sublime: a single unbroken improvisation in which the musicians traded solos. with pulsating drones building into frenetic exchanges. The variety of sounds that came from these two instruments was truly amazing. It was a transporting tour-de-force of rhythm and melody.

Notably, Kalhor explained in an interview that he doesn't perform in Iran, although classical music concerts are permitted. Kalhor says the bureaucratic hurdles necessary to get government permission for a performance are cumbersome and "disrespectful."

The program notes were written by ethnomusicologist Laudan Nooshin who writes that, "like other Middle Eastern traditions, Persian classical music is based on the explortion of short modal pieces: in Iran these are known as gushehs, and there are 200 or so gushehs in the complete radif [repertoire]. These gushehs are grouped according to mode into 12 modal 'systems' called dastgah. A dastgah essential comprises a progression of modally-related gushehs in a manner somewhat similar to the progression of pieces in a Baroque suite...The training of a classical musician essentially involves memorizing the complete repertoire of the radif. Only when the entire repertoire has been memorized - gusheh by gusheh, dastgah by dastgah - a process that takes many years, are musicians considered ready to embark on creative digressions, eventually leading to improvisation itself. So the radif is not performed as such, but represents the starting point for creative performance and composition."