Night Silence Desert, a modern suite by Kayhan Kalhor, spreads an extraordinarily wide net over Iran’s musical traditions, drawing together instruments, modes, and styles long since divided by cultural and generational change.
One of Iran’s most accomplished post-revolutionary instrumentalist-composers, Kalhor combines his own contemporary virtuosic style on the kamancheh, which he shares with the youngest generation of instrumentalists, with the traditional folk style of eighty-year-old dotar master Hadj Ghorban Soleimani and the older, established vocal style of Mohammad Reza Shajarian. He consciously pins Persian classical music structures to the rich folk modes and melodies of Northern Khorasan, the cultural heart of historic Persia and a bridge to Central Asia. He orchestrates unusual pairings such as the nay and cello, exploring connections between East and West, and juxtaposes the nearly 1000-year-old poetry of Baba Taher with contemporary lyrics by Houshang Ebtehaj. Merging centuries-old musical traditions with the modern technology of the digital recording studio, Kalhor generates kamancheh choruses, rhythmic sequencing, and shifting textures that are as fundamentally traditional as they are unabashedly experimental. Rarely has a work of Persian music, of any music, tied such a knot between the past and the present.
Mohammad Reza Shajarian
Mohammad Reza Shajarian, the undisputed master of Persian traditional (classical) singing, is regarded as a national treasure by both musicians and music lovers. He is perhaps Iran’s most diverse and prolific singer of all time and has a huge repertory of recorded works. In 1999 UNESCO in France presented him with the prestigious Picasso Award, one of Europe’s highest honors, and in 2000 the Ministry of Culture in Iran declared him the best classical vocalist since the Revolution. In the music of Iran, traditional singing is one of the most difficult arts to master. Shajarian is widely considered the embodiment of the perfect singer and a major source of inspiration to other musicians.
Born in 1940 in the city of Mash'had in northeastern Iran, Shajarian studied singing at the early age of five under the supervision of his father, and at the age of twelve he began studying the traditional classical repertoire known as the radif. He studied with the great masters Esmaeel Mehrtash and Ahmad Ebadi, and learned the vocal styles of singers from previous generations, including Reza-Gholi Mirza Zelli, Ghamar-ol Molouk Vaziri, Eghbal Azar, and Taj Esfahani. He started playing the santur under the instruction of Jalal Akhbari in order to better understand and perform the traditional repertoire, and in 1960 he became the pupil of Faramarz Payvar.
Shajarian was deeply inspired by the late master vocalist Gholam Hossein Banan. He studied under the guidance of master Abdollah Davami, from whom he learned the most ancient tasnifs (songs). Davami also passed on to Shajarian his own interpretation of the radif. Shajarian started his singing career in 1959 at Radio Khorasan, rising to prominence in the 1960s with his distinct style of singing, at once technically flawless, powerful, and intensely emotional. Since then, he has had an illustrious career that includes teaching at Tehran University's Department of Fine Arts (among other places), working at National Radio and Television, researching Iranian music, and making numerous important recordings. He performs regularly in Iran and throughout the world, including recent concerts at New York’s Avery Fisher Hall, London’s Royal Festival Hall and Queen Elizabeth Hall, and Berlin’s Passionskirche.