Iranian star Shajarian to sing at DPAC
This Saturday, Iranian singer and composer Mohammad-Reza Shajarian, widely recognized as the greatest living master of Persian music, will perform at the Durham Performing Arts Center.
A legend in Iran for his impassioned voice, his extraordinary knowledge of Persian music and poetry and his steadfast commitment to independent thinking under repressive governments, Shajarian has established himself as the outward voice for the Iranian people. His various accolades—two Grammy nominations, a United Nations Picasso Award, inclusion in NPR’s “50 Great Voices” and a UNESCO Mozart Medal—help point to why Saturday’s concert is being touted as one of the most high-profile shows in the history of Duke Performances.
“It’s very exciting that such a world-class musician is coming to the Triangle,” said Carl Ernst, Kenan Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “He is universally regarded as the greatest Iranian singer in the past 30 to 40 years.”
Saturday’s performance offers an opportunity for exposure to a branch of music very different from the classical European tradition.
“Be prepared for intense, rhythmically complex, and melodically intricate music,” Ernst said.
Persian music, like classical Indian ragas, improvises around pre-established scales. According to tradition, vocalists have a double role as both performers and composers. They must choose the dastgah—melody type—that the musicians will play and the poetry that will be sung, often from the two great Ancient Persian poets Rumi and Hafez.
“Iranians have a passionate relationship with poetry and music, often seeing Persian poetry as the key to Persian culture and their most important contribution to world humanities,” wrote Omid Safi, professor of religious studies at UNC-Chapel Hill, in an email yesterday. “Iranians begin to learn their classic poetry from a thousand years ago in second grade, and to this day classical poetry is the very basis of Iranian education. Think of the Greek attachment to philosophy, and you have a good comparison for the place of poetry in Persian culture.”
When presented with the opportunity, Shajarian chooses poems and music with political undertones. In Berlin in 1979, after hearing news of a massacre of Iranians by Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, Shajarian performed a concert that has become famous for its extraordinary emotional intensity. In 2003, he put on a benefit concert immediately following the catastrophic Bam earthquake in Iran. He still refuses to allow the Iranian government to use his music.
“Iranians convey their highest aspirations through music and poetry, not just mystical and erotic, but also political,” Safi said.
Shajarian often closes his concerts with the song “Morgh-e Sahar”—“The Dawn Time Bird.” This song has come to symbolize the Green Movement for democratic reform in Iran, Safi added. Shajarian is also renowned as an innovator of Persian classical music. He has invented upwards of eight musical instruments because he felt that the current ones were not sufficient. On Saturday, some of the musicians from the 17-piece Shahnaz Ensemble will play instruments of Shajarian’s inventions.
“Shajarian established himself on the strength of his voice,” said Amir Rezvani, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences. “But in his maturity he has improvised and shown wonderful creativity.”
Though Shajarian sings in Farsi, the emotion of his music needs no translation.
“Music is an international language,” Rezvani said. “Prepare to be mesmerized, to feel ecstasy.”
Duke Performances will present Mohammad-Reza Shajarian and the Shahnaz Ensemble this Saturday at DPAC at 8 p.m. Tickets are $5 for students.