1135 GMT April 21, 2021
Recently in the music world an album was released that has fundamental differences from other previous musical works. Recordings are usually known by the name of their singers, and the poets and composers’ efforts and creativity will remain under the shadow of the singers’ names. On the other hand, prominent figures in traditional and classical music in Iran rarely show interest in cooperation with other renowned figures of different musical genres. Therefore, the endeavor made by Amin Sharifi and Kelariz Keshavarz to produce and release ‘Iranian New Waves’ seems dramatically significant. It is a unique and rare occasion in the history of Iran’s music to see the names of Alireza Mashayekhi, Reza Vali, Nader Mashayekhi and Peiman Yazdanian among the renowned composers together to produce a joint album. A couple of days ago this work was released inside Iran and abroad by Petrichor Records, with Amin Sharifi as the artistic director and Keshavarz as flute artist, to let the voice of Iranian musicians be heard throughout the world; it is considered qualitatively and quantitatively a rare event in the past few years.
Iran newspaper reporter, Neda Sijani, conducted an exclusive interview with musicians in the project including Reza Vali, Nader Mashayekhi, Farnaz Modarresifar, Ankido Darash, Amir Eslami and Amir Pourkhalaji. Moreover, Amin Sharifi and Kelariz Keshavarz, artistic director and instrumentalist in this project, told us about the experience of arranging this project. The full text of the interview follows:
Why is contemporary music regarded as a subgenre of classical music, with a special audience and, most of the time, it is criticized because of its complexity and distance from popular taste and, naturally, it cannot be financially self-dependent?
AMIN SHARIFI: One of the main features of contemporary art is to be avant-garde or progressive in creativity and innovation. That means the avant-garde artist is in the vanguard of artistic creativity in his or her era. Naturally, creativity and innovation is different from popular taste in any period. It is exactly like technological advancement, in that it takes years, or even decades, from the time when something is invented to the time it is embraced by the public.
The music of Beethoven, that was avant-garde at the time, was acclaimed by the public and critics, posthumously. The same thing happened to modern music in the early 20th century. There are numerous instances of that. Today, to be avant-garde, not to be used as a touchstone for positive or negative approach, means to have fewer and a more specialized audience, the kind of audience that is a connoisseur, or a professional, who knows the history of art and aesthetics. It is self-evident that those intrinsic characteristics are in contrast with commercial projects, in which the main purpose is to move alongside the public. It’s a simple formula: If a producer or an organizer of contemporary classical music wants to arrange and classify the projects based on financial estimates, they will soon have to disregard the aesthetic value of the selected works or projects. Consequently, these projects cannot become commercial, unless they change their nature entirely.
The interesting and thought-provoking point is that people have different views of this album. How important do you think is the effect of the generation gap in the reception of this album?
NADER MASHAYEKHI: This is a very important point. We have no history in the art of music. If somebody attends an Iranian music school and wants to know what model systems there are besides dastgah (a musical modal system in traditional Persian art music), he will find no references. ‘Iranian New Waves’ project is an auspicious event illustrating the cultural focus and process of experiences that people had through generations.
In fact, ‘Iranian New Waves’ shows what points Iranian composers regard as important. Some people are inspired by European art and do the things that happened in Europe, but there are other people who show initiative without ever having been to Europe, and they do it on their own. We can see that, in Iran, there have been such talents that were truly Iranian and can only emerge from Iran.
REZA VALI: For me the best moment and pleasure is to be next to other composers. When the works of various composers are released in the ‘Iranian New Waves’ project, many new works of Iranian composers will be introduced to international audiences for the first time. ‘Iranian New Waves’ project repertoire is focused on the flute and flutists trying hard to perform a new repertoire. In Iran, there are very good instrumentalists. I am truly glad that the level of performance has improved in Iran, and we can use cyberspace to have cooperation with young instrumentalists and experienced figures. In this situation, with the coronavirus pandemic, there is no need for foreign composers to risk traveling to Iran. Now, I can work with instrumentalists from Pittsburgh, and they can introduce themselves and their music.
AMIN SHARIFI: About the main features of this project, I can point to the anthological approach to the work; it means there is a representative from all styles and active schools of music in this project. In a sense, this project is an anthology or a reflection of incidents made by Iranian musicians. Regarding other important points, I can point to several performances in festivals in different countries and the unique diversity of the styles of composers inside and outside the country. And with regard to the size of the project, it is about 300 minutes, in two parts, focusing on solo performances of different kinds of flutes; most of the pieces in this project are specifically composed for Keshavarz, the instrumentalist in this project.
What is your view on the term “contemporary music”? How do you define and interpret “new music”? Do you distinguish between the two, or prefer one to the other?
KELARIZ KESHAVARZ: The issue of how much contemporary Iranian flute music is dependent on Western trends of music, and to what extent it reflects Iranian national identity, was the subject of an article I wrote a while ago in the process of recording tracks for ‘Iranian New Waves’. The article attempts to classify the pieces in ‘Iranian New Waves,’ based on the interpretation of the audience in three general categories. The first class includes pieces which are influenced by traditional and local Iranian music. Composers of these pieces use explicitly the Iranian music material and many in the audience, especially in a foreign audience, recognize these pieces as “Contemporary Iranian Music”. The second class includes pieces that are inspired by certain elements from Iranian culture; for instance, Iranian poetry, an event or mythology of Iran and the like. In this class, the composers use elements from Iranian culture as a source of inspiration and raw material, employ them in a more concealed layer, and develop them. However, the definition and interpretation of the audience, without knowing the name of the composers of these pieces, is not that the pieces are necessarily Iranian. This class could be considered as a bridge from the first to the third class, in which the composers have no ties with Iranian music and they are influenced by cultures in different parts of the world. According to the article, eventually one can conclude that there is multi-culturalism in Iran’s music today, gradually transformed from the nationalistic music of the 19th century to the contemporary multi-cultural music, and now acts beyond geographical borders and, in a broader view, it signifies multi-culturalism, not nationalism. These 24 pieces are in fact like the pieces in a big jigsaw puzzle of contemporary Iranian music and indicate multi-culturalism in a panoramic view of contemporary music. I guess, in this sense, notions such as nationalism and national identity do not belong to the 21st century. In my opinion, nationalism is a consequence of the Romantic period and the Industrial Revolution. Not only did the European nations try to take a step towards independence in producing goods and get ahead of one another, but they were also inclined to recognize themselves (as though unified nations having their own taste and style in music and generally in arts). In fact, what Alireza Mashayekhi calls “multicultural” is manifested in the new form of Iranian music.
Can one assume a national identity for contemporary music in Iran, or should it be seen as beyond national and cultural borders?
FARNAZ MODARRESIFAR: New art (specifically, music as the most abstract form of art, apart from its applicable and practical kind) cannot be limited to a nation, but in this approach to art, it is the identity of the artist (composer) that is formed and defined in their cultural and national context. Every Iranian composer, willingly or not, is indebted in large part to the nation in which he or she has been reared.
AMIR ESLAMI: In my opinion, Iran’s contemporary music includes a large part of music presented in the past 50 years or so, whether in the Iranian classical genre, or in combination with classical Western music. An identity exists for this music, but classification and determining the exact point where this music separates from others is difficult. It seems that national identity plays a role in that, even if it is limited to the composer (who is Iranian).
ANKIDO DARESH: Contemporary music is the product of a time in which one aspect is globalization and the other is national identity. I know myself as a child, in the time of satellites and the internet that blurred borders, while, on the other hand, I started to know the world by first knowing Tehran. Globalization helped me a lot to globalize the experience of realization of human emotions and thoughts, so I can say it about myself that all my efforts went towards realizing my culture and personal language to reach a global language.
AMIR POURKHALAJI: Since this question has different aspects, it is not easy to answer it in a few sentences. A country like the US spends billions of dollars on creating a national background and identity to reach a new American music, it traces back to African-American and Native American traditions, so that by employing these materials it could make great progress in music. Even a European composer like Dvořák composed his New World symphony based on this approach. Iran’s potential for using its materials has two faces. First is its cultural background, especially in terms of time and history, which provides us with thousands of years of treasures. Second is its geographical realm, which is very vast. To include the cities and countries that have been a part of Iran’s land and still have Iranian culture, each has its own music, and considering the ethnic music and systems of dastgah and maqam (a system of melodic modes used in traditional Persian music), we can see that the potential is endless. Therefore, there is a treasure like an iceberg, only a part of which we are, unfortunately, able to see. Composers today perhaps have no need to try to make new motifs, themes or melodies, and they can make great experiences just by looking at this treasure and using their composing talent and knowledge. With such inspiration, composing music can open a new horizon to the world of music. Nonetheless, the issue is very subjective and cannot be viewed in a definite way. On the other hand, music is an art with no borders; in my view, to put yourself in a certain structure is a fatal mistake. We can think of great composers in history as models, for instance, Korsakov and Ravel. They used Spanish music and music from other parts of the world to make masterpieces without regarding their nationalities. Moreover, our motivations and reasons for composing a piece, its geographical and time range, and other factors are important as well. If a piece is composed for a specific purpose (film, concert, festival, or pragmatic music) it also plays a crucial role in its identity. The New World symphony, ordered by the Philharmonic-Symphony Society of New York, and composed by Dvořák from the Czech Republic is an instance for explaining the condition that I talked about.
Ultimately, from my point of view, along with having his or her own signature on a piece of work, a composer can be very flexible and compose various pieces of work.