Duluth orchestra and Iranian composer make music history

For perhaps the first time since the Iranian revolution in 1979, an Iranian composer living in Iran collaborated with an American orchestra. It was the world premiere of “Kalileh,” a classic Persian fable set to music by composer Hooshyar Khayam, performed on July by the Lake Superior Chamber Orchestra (LSCO), in Duluth, Minnesota.

The story of how a small orchestra in Duluth commissioned an original piece from a young Iranian composer begins last year, when conductor and artistic director Warren Friesen needed six more minutes of music for a concert. “So I literally went into YouTube, and I put in ‘piano and strings’ and let’s see what comes up,” he recalled. Thousands of pieces did and Friesen listened to snippets of dozens of them.

“I came across a piece called ‘Stained Glass’ by a composer I’d never heard of, with this funny name of Hooshyar Khayam. […] At this point I didn’t even know that Hooshyar was living in Tehran. All I knew was that I liked his music.” The LSCO performed the piece last July in Duluth, and an unlikely friendship was born between the 62-year-old Friesen and 36-year-old Khayam.

“I was very much moved by the extreme power of the musicians in the American orchestra, who could in fact play the Persian rhythms with that accuracy and that perfection,” Khayam said. So after that performance, Khayam agreed to create an original piece for shadow puppets and chamber orchestra based on an ancient Indian/Persian fable of the composer’s choice to play this year. Ultimately, Khayam added a youth chorus into the mix.

The result is “Kalileh,” based on an ancient Persian fable of the same name, which tells the story of a jackal, a trickster character, who seeks to become more powerful by becoming more beautiful. “The opening chorus, which I love, says ‘Come, Come Wanderer, lover of leaving, even if you have broken your vow a thousand times, come, come.’ It’s such a beautiful invitation,” Friesen said. The lyrics, explained Friesen, are verses of poetry written by famous 13th-century Persian poets Saadi and Rumi.

Khayam said the work “for me was more than a professional commission. I personally believe that ‘Kalileh’ shows something deeper of this relation of me as an Iranian with this wonderful orchestra in America. […] I’m always searching for sort of a higher meaning than only notes to listen to. […] The most important ingredient of this collaboration is that fact that it’s happening between two countries who have had years of misunderstanding and years of conflict.”

Khayam has collaborated with Friesen and others through Skype over the past year and visited Duluth for the performances.

All USA-Iran related posts on this blog: The other Iran | USA

About Hooshyar Khayam
Hooshyar Khayam (b. 1978) is an Iranian musician. He is active as a composer, pianist, and conductor. His works are in contemporary classical, contemporary jazz, Persian/world music; and in music for film, animation, dance, and theater.

He is the finalist of the Queen Elisabeth International Composition Competition for his piano concerto Before the Dream is Over (2013), first prize award winner of Franz Schubert and Modern Music International Composition Competition for his trio I Waited for You in Rain (2011), finalist of the Mauricio Kagel International Composition Competition (2013); Winner of Culture and Music Critic’s Prize: Tehran’s best album of the year for Tatari (2007); and 4-star winner Top of the World Albums by Songlines (75th issue) for his album All of You (with Amir Eslami, 2011) as distinctive music of Middle East.

Khayam has BM in Persian Music, University of Art, Tehran; AD in Piano Performance, Trinity College, London; MM and DMA in Composition, College-Conservatory of Music, Cincinnati. He lives and works in Tehran as an independent artist.

About Warren Friesen
Warren Friesen on Facebook

Further read: Duluth News Tribune | Duluth’s Lake Superior Chamber Orchestra set to bridge cultures with new work

Sources: Minnesota Public Radio News, Hooshyar Khayam | Biography, Duluth Reader | A musical blowout at the end of July 2015

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