Concert review: Iran’s Pavarotti and music actvist Mohammad Reza Shajarian and the Shahnaz Ensemble at Town Hall.

Date: April 20, 2012
Venue: Town Hall (NY)

Text by Aida Shahghasemi 

A few weeks after his son, Homayoun (read review here), Mohammad Reza Shajarian and the Shahnaz Ensemble gave a concert at Town Hall last month which portrayed creativity and innovation within the realm of Persian classical music.

As one of the best internationally known Persian classical vocalists, Mohammad Reza Shajarian began his career at an early age through Radio Khorasan. Born in 1940, he learned how to use his voice from doing Koran recitations with his father from the age of five, and in 1959, he was invited by Radio Khorasan to have a regular presence. He studied the vocal repertoire (Radif), from a number of prominent individuals, including Faramarz Payvar. His style of singing has inspirations from numerous individuals from previous generations such as Reza Gholi Mirza, Ghamarolmoluk e Vaziri, Taj Esfahani, and Eghbal Azar. He rose to fame quickly as his voice carried a speciality that touched any heart. Strongly embedded in Persian poetry, his performances have always carried a strong message. It is also important to point out that he has had a strong effect in presenting contemporary poetry through Persian classical music. The record, Jam e Tohi, was critically acclaimed as it successfully merged classical music and the words of Fereidoun Moshiri, a dearly loved friend of Mohammad Reza Shajarian, and a contemporary poet.

This concert included poems by H.E. Sayeh (Houshang Ebtehaj), along with works of Sa’di, Hafez, and Molana. The night consisted of two parts, the first being mostly in the mode of Segah and dedicated to the beloved Parviz Meshkatian. The second part was mostly in the mode of Esfahan.
Mohammad Reza Shajarian also contributed to the research and propagation of Iranian regional music. Within the evolution of Persian classical music, he has also had a share in rethinking the structures of instruments, the results of which can be seen in his current ensemble.

(As a reference how Shajarian sounded at Town Hall, please watch the below video which shows a performance of Shajarian at the Royal Festival Hall in London.)

Inspired from his love of the santur, most likely from the bond he shared with Faramarz Payvar, he introduced the tondar, a santur with a bigger box that allows the exploration of lower frequencies (played by Jamshid Safarzadeh). A number of other instruments have been introduced through Mohammad Reza Shajarian which were played masterfully at their concert in Town Hall. They are as follows:
shahbang, the contra bass of the sorahi family, played by Sepideh Khodavardi,
sorahi, inspired by the kamancheh, has a differently shaped body and has both wood and skin on its belly, and comes in four sound ranges of soprano, alto, bass, and contra bass; the alto version was played by Mehrdad Nasehi.
saghar, from the lute family and similar to the tar, played by Mahdi Amini,
shahrashoub, similar to the sorahi with a smaller sound box. This instrument also comes in four sound ranges of soprano, alto, bass, and contra bass. The alto was played by Mehrdad Nasehi,
shahnavaz, similar to the sorahi and shahrashoub, played by Hamed Afshari,
saboo, a bowed instrument similar to the violin with the capability to be played in two positions: similar to the violin or upright resting between the knees, played by Kaveh Motamedian.

The rest of the instruments and ensemble members included:
santur, Ramin Safaie
ney, Shahou Andalibi
setar and vocals, Mojgan Shajarian
tar, Radman Tavakoli
ghanoun, Sahar Ebrahim
tombak, Hamid Ghanbari
kamancheh, Saman Samimi
daf and dayereh, Hossein Rezaie Nia
Of course, there was also composer, musical arranger, orchestral leader, and tar player: Majid Derakhshani.

It is true that old age can affect a voice; Mohammad Reza Shajarian has been singing for over sixty years. Yet his presence carries with it the voice of numerous generations. Seen from the togetherness of his accompanying ensemble, the innovations he has presented throughout the past few years, and of course the teachings he has passed on to his children (Mojgan and Homayoun) who have successfully taken flight towards their own journeys,  it is evident that there is something beyond this one artist, internationally acclaimed as Mohammad Reza Shajarian. He connected with generations before him and left something for generations after him. He has put together a strong tapestry which holds in it the strands, colors, and patterns from the past and enough space for those with other opinions to add what they desire. Claims have been made about Iranian music having a theoretic (music theory, scientific/mathematic measurement of frequencies and written notations)  life of only a century. It is through the works of artists such as Shajarian, creating a multi-dimensionality that includes a bigger perspective in the face of such narrow analyses, that the versatility of Persian classical music can be seen.