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Hafez Nazeri: 'A new kind of classical music'

September 27, 2009 | 10:00 am


Whatever you do, don’t describe 30-year-old composer Hafez Nazeri’s blend of traditional Iranian sounds and Western classical motifs as “world music.”

The mere mention of the folk genre — to which journalists and record labels have consigned him — caused Nazeri to balk during an interview.

“No, it’s not world music at all,” the composer said on the phone from his home in New York. “It’s a new kind of classical music that’s neither fully Eastern nor Western.”

On Oct. 3, Nazeri will appear in concert at the Pantages Theatre, featuring a mix of Iranian and American musicians in a performance of Nazeri’s Rumi Symphony Project: Cycle One — a project long in the works that sets the poetry of the 13th century Persian mystic Rumi to symphonic sounds.

The two-hour piece will feature vocals by Shahram Nazeri — Hafez’s father and one of the most celebrated singers in Iran. It will also feature members of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.

“I wanted to create music that balances the Eastern and Western influences,” the younger Nazeri said.
“Most of the time when composers try this, one culture is dominating the other. Somehow you feel the balance isn’t there.”

Born in Tehran to a musical family, Nazeri grew up with constant exposure to ancient music. (His mother and father are of Kurdish descent.) His early immersion in traditional sounds left him hungering for something new.

“Hafez is in a unique position because of his father,” said Ann Lucas, a ethnomusicologist at UCLA. “His father was very grounded in tradition but has become open to new ideas now. There’s a back-and-forth exchange of styles between them.”

In the Oct. 3 concert, audiences will get to see one of the younger Nazeri’s more recent innovations: a traditional setar (a Persian lute) with two additional strings intended to expand the instrument’s range. He has named it the Hafez.

“Thousands of people who play setar in Iran are against me,” he said. “They say why add two more strings to the instrument? But I don’t get upset with them.”

The composer also has his share of critics in the U.S. “I think his music is grandiose and pretentious,” said a professor in ethnomusicology in New York who wished to go unnamed. “I’m sure he’s getting commissions. There are a lot of wealthy Iranians out there who like his stuff.”

Nazeri seems to thrive on the criticism.

“If you keep the same traditions of 5,000 years ago, it means we are living 5,000 years ago,” he said. “I think that innovation should be a part of tradition.”

-- David Ng

"Rite of Fall: Mehregan." Pantages Theatre, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. 7:30 p.m., Oct. 3. $30-$300. (800) 745-3000 or ticketmaster.com. Running time: 2 hours.

Photo: Composer Hafez Nazeri. Credit: Tom Betterton / Jenny Gage & Tom Betterton

Comments () | Archives (2)

Thank you for your interesting article.
Finally an article that does not confine Hafez in the 'world music'.
No, Hafez's music is not at all "world music". The term "world music" was coinced in the 1980' as a means of categorizing music that does not fit the mould of contemporary international music. In particular, world music
became synonymous with music from the non-West world, which was beginning(in the 19080')to find its way into the consciousness of a number of influental Western
music producers (I would agree with David Byrne who wrote an editorial in The New York Times entitled I Hate World Music). In the United States, the classification of music as "world music" is often a question of language, generally referring to songs not in English. It is an ethinc and cultural barrier. "World music" has its own limitations. Youssou N'Dour's music always been based on a rich and varied mixture of cultural influences: afro-cuban, africans, spanish, cuban, etc. But his "Joko: from Village to Town" (2000) album was made for the western market and he made significant alterations to his music in an attempt to attract western audience.
Hafez's music is very different. Hafez grew up in a famous musical family, and along with his father's friends.
He plays persian music since he was a child and it was natural for him to explore different backgrounds, in order to open the persian music.
About the the criticism in Iran, we must to keep in mind that the art of music in Iran is something sensitive especially since the islamic revolution of 1979.
"Why add two more strings to the instrument?" I would respond them: to keep the persian music alive.
To keep it alive in the western countries: to make us discover the persian culture and wonderful persian legacy.
Hafez's music makes me interested in other musicians.
I knew nothing about the setar. Now I want a setar, I want to go in Iran !
To keep it alive in Iran: before the islamic revolution, in Tehran,you would thought you were in a Western City: ballet, opera, Western-style orchestra etc. It apparead that the better talents among Iranian composers and performers were attracted to Western music rather than to traditional persian music. The persian music is wonderful, but limited in scope and appeal: lack of
measured rhythm, harmony and counterpoint. Since always, the role of the artist in persian music in to enrich or embellish the existing melody, to work on conventional material within an established
framework. To many musicians, this compositional technique and its dependence upon tradition are too limiting. Hafez opens the door for other young Iranians.
Hafez's music is a creative transformation of both the western and persian classical musics, their whole styles and music principles on which they are based.

That's great. I wish him good luck. Those who wanna bring about a change always face criticism for breaking the norms but when they dare and insist, they make others praise them for the perseverence and innovations. Many years later people accept the change as an undeniable norm. Like what happened years ago to setar ( in Farsi: THREE STRINGS). A musician named Moshtaq added a string to it and it has actually four strings now but still called setar. The fourth string is now called Moshtaq String. I think we will have Hafez Strings some years later.


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