Sunday, October 29, 2006

Mehregan in Miller's Theater

A celebration of the Mehregan festival was held in Miller’s Theater, sponsored by Iranian-American Society. This was the third program sponsored by this organization that I have attended.

The program consisted of two parts: A piano concert by Tania Eshaghoff and a vocal recital by Darya Dadvar. I was familiar with both of them.

I would like to reassure my nervous friends that I by no means intend to write about the musical aspects of this program for two simple reasons. One is that I do not know much about music and do not play any instruments. However music by nature deals with our senses and most of us rightly assume that a pair of ears with a little sense for harmony and rhythm and a little feel for melody is enough to listen to music and enjoy it. I think that much I can manage.

The other reason is that the program was consisted of two unequal parts. One part has the privilege of being vocal, which is more attractive, using poetry which has the double advantage of the magic of words and language combined with rhythm. If these rules are not universal, the are definitely true to my very primitive nature. So in short, it might appear that my ignorance and my bias disqualify me from writing this review. However, as I have promised, I do not intend to write about the music at all.

Instead I’m writing about the state of Iranian music in exile. In that respect, anyone who pays fifty five dollars for a ticket to a concert of two novice artists has a very legitimate right at least to say what was happening there. (We paid $45 for Parisa and Nazeri and Kalhor!)

In fact I feel obliged to write what I’m writing with the hope that those who know music (and I’m sure there are lots of them here) come forth and write and say what they must.

As it is, most of our young talented artists are left without a demand, challenge, and criticism, which undeniably plays the most significant role in the developments of any sort of art. Iranian art in exile particularly our music, is suffering tremendously from this want. I have twice been to Tania’s concerts. It is painful to me to see that her second concert was in fact few steps backward. Like the first, three years ago, she is simultaneously player, conductor, and composer. I am sure this is not unheard of in the world of music. However, like any sort of art, it takes time and experience to do what she is doing at this early stage of her life, without the necessary maturity and experience. Almost all the pieces she played (except one) was either composed or improvised by her. And the only piece which was composed by the beloved Iranian composer, Javad Maaroufi, fell into the abyss of improvisation after a few notes played. As far as I know, it is very unprecedented to give an entire stage to a novice to perform her own work; usually new talents are introduced gradually to the audience by performing small pieces within the programs of the more experienced and popular. The first performance of this young artist a few years ago in Symphony Space continued forty five-minutes over the time (one hour and half) given to her!

We Iranians have an expression which says every bride can enjoy her happiness for forty days. I think it is wise to think about forty-first day when the honeymoon of novelty and politeness and niceties are over. Then what? At some point, the audience wants a good piece of work whose ups and downs are in accord with their sensibilities and ears.

Not being a musician, I have no idea if this is a general state of affairs in this art form or is it only Iranian music in exile which is in such a disastrous state. We have Californian Iranian music which is so devoid of melody that one wonders how the performers remember to distinguish one piece form the other. And here on the East Coast it is improvisation which is killing us. Being involved and interested in the other sorts of arts, I do not know of anything which is allowed more free fall than Iranian music in exile. While it is easy to ignore Iranian pub music, with all its problem in the crowd of a wedding party, we can not ignore the defect of a music played in a concert hall.

I for one feel guilty that I am neither a musician nor a close friend or relative of these young artists or a member of their cliques or groups that organize such events to advise someone like Tania 1) to sit and play a nice pieces which are composed by known composers from beginning to end, 2) to keep improvisation and composition to a minimum until she establishes herself—these young artists should remember that the Art Masters first become masters then tried to change the course of tradition and not the other way around, 3). that those keys on the left side of the piano are there to be used and if she cannot bring up the sound which in required, the violin and cello will not make up for it, and 4) not all Iranians are from that generation that do not know good music from bad just because it is not tar or setar.

I’m here more critical of our fellow Iranians who are musicians (and I saw a few of them there in the salon) and definitely are in a position to write a review for this kind of performance so that these young artists can use their talent and energy in a constructive way. I hope that one day the Tanias and Halehs and Sousans will respect their audiences and not try to force them to listen to cacophony but to harmony. Creativity is not the same as chaos.

The other part of the program, the vocal by Darya Dadvar could be considered a good example of innovation mixed with passion and talent in a young artist who wishes to go beyond the boundaries which have been set for Iranian music for such a long time. Darya has studied in Toulouse. She has great love for Iranian music and makes her own adaptation of Iranian folk music and recently of some Iranian classical music. In her Mehregan performance, she performed a few classical pieces in Western classical style, which touched the heart of even the older generation in the audience. Her sensitivity to the emotional attachments of her audience is remarkable. This was shown when she performed the Iranian National Anthem Iran, Ey Iran! with her own interpretation without any distortion.

This performance by Dayra was less folkloric and less melodic than her previous one and the pieces were selected more from classical poetry and Iranian dastgahs, which lack that populists charm. Still, her performance mixed with her passion and her beautiful voice eliminated the gap which has separated Iranian Western music. Even the older people did not feel they were listening to opera because Darya made it easy for them. She simply sang from her heart and they listened.

I’m sure these young artists are able to reach whatever level of excellence that they desire. However, art is not just excellence. A good part of it is its soul, which comes from the artist’s very being. It is our responsibility to help them maintain that spirit and soul. As an audience we should attend. We should be present with all our senses and we should demand. As organizers we should make sure to arrange concerts so that they do not interfere with another, less expensive program ten blocks away with a giant name (Keyvan Kalhor) and an more titanic organizer (World Music). As some who have a share in this market, we should challenge and we should criticize. Let us be fair to our young artists; let them grow; let them to reach that excellence that they deserve. And as performers we should not think that the audience is just there to applaud. They are there to appreciate a good work. We should do our best to give them what they deserve, too. At this point, we are not doing our job as we should.

To read the rest, click here.