For Hafez Nazeri, the opportunity to be the first Iranian composer to headline Carnegie Hall with his opus titled “Iranian Sounds of Peace” will fulfill a dream of helping promote peace and understanding between Eastern and Western cultures, especially after the crackdown on the 2009 Iranian election protests in June.
This story first appeared in the September 4, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
The New York debut on Nov. 14 will be presented by the Nazeri Music Foundation, Absolutely Live Entertainment and the Asia Society. Nazeri’s New York appearance with his father, Shahram Nazir, long considered the Pavarotti of Iran, will follow a presentation in Los Angeles on Oct. 3 at the Pantages Theatre, titled “Rumi Symphony Project: Cycle One.” Nazeri describes the modern concept and philosophy behind this opus as a “musical discourse to promote world peace.”
“At a time when all that we hear about Iran is filtered through headlines of intolerance, chaos and violence, I feel it is important to portray a 7,000-year cultural history with its deeply poetic and artistic mystical traditions,” says Nazeri. His goal is to be the “new face of Iran in the West, and create something that talks to young Iranians.”
Nazeri’s works, including the newest, “Night Angel,” to be released in 2010, could well do that. Reminiscent of a fairy tale set in ancient Persia’s purple night sky, it evokes the passion of a star-crossed angel and his lover, a Persian flower. The result is a combination of classical Western music with the pitch and tone of his homeland, his Kurdish heritage and Indian ragas (melodic modes).
Nazeri, whose work has been performed at a number of venues including London’s Royal Albert Hall, the Theatre de Ville in Paris and the De Bijloke in Belgium, notes, “Americans are going to understand my work fairly easily because they will hear their own classical music, but they will hear something very different in it. Because we will be singing in Farsi, it will be like going to an opera and hearing something in Italian.”
Nazeri, 30, is his country’s most influential young composer. A main inspiration is gleaned from Rumi, the 13th century mystic poet. He also created a new musical instrument based on the traditional four-string sitar called The Hafez, which has two additional low strings to craft greater a melodic range.
Here, Nazeri talks about his work as well as his Carnegie Hall debut.
WWD: When did you begin what you describe as a free and borderless sound of both classic Persian and Western music?
Hafez Nazeri: I started playing Persian music when I was three years old, the sitar and the tanbur lutes, the daf drum, and at age 9 started singing at music festivals in Paris and Avignon, France. I lived in Iran until I was 19. I attended Mannes College of Music in Manhattan and received a diploma in composition and conducting in 2005. I had no idea I would be coming to New York to study Western classical music.
WWD: What was the turning point in your career?
H.N.: I always wanted to create something different. When I first composed “Passion of the Rumi” at age 19 in Iran, I gathered four other young musicians. It was the first time a great musical master, my father, played with five young musicians. The Middle Eastern mentality is very conservative. It was a huge controversy and everybody went crazy.
WWD: So far, what has been your biggest accomplishment?
H.N.: The “Rumi Ensemble” with my father in 2000, a 20-city tour across Iran including the late Shah’s palace. We even played in front of 140,000 in Tehran. This is what I want to do again. I need to bring Western classical music to them, but I need to talk to the government and tell them, “Let me do this for the young people. They have nothing to listen to.” Young people are burning and dying over there for culture and music. They can’t record anything and they don’t have access to concerts, just traditional Persian music. When I was growing up I was a huge Metallica fan.
WWD: Have you spoken with the Iranian government about this project?
H.N.: Yes, a minister in the Department of Culture said we’ll do it. But it has to go through so many channels. And one of the laws over there is you can’t have more than 8,000 to 10,000 people in one place.
WWD: What are your impressions of the election protests in June?
H.N.: I was in Iran and left a month before the movement. It was quiet. But it all happened suddenly.