KAYHAN KALHOR & BROOKLYN RIDER
KAYHAN KALHOR and BROOKLYN RIDER Release Debut Collaboration CD “Silent City”
Iranian Kamancheh Virtuoso and New York String Quartet
Meld Western and Persian Classical Traditions
KAYHAN KALHOR AND BROOKLYN RIDER “Silent City” Tour Schedule
Sat April 4, 2009 :: Los Angeles, CA UCLA Live / Royce Hall
Sun April 5, 2009 :: San Francisco, CA SF Jazz / Palace of Fine Arts
Tue April 7, 2009 :: Little Rock, AR U of AR / Stella Boyle Hall
Sat April 18, 2009 Westport, CT TBA
Read “Silent City” feature in New York Times Aug 27
There’s no shortage of cross-cultural recordings in the world today, but very few are as inspired and ambitious as Silent City, a new collaboration between experimental American string quartet Brooklyn Rider and Iranian master musician Kayhan Kalhor. Grounded in the Persian classical traditions of Iran and the creative ferment of New York’s avant-classical scene, this landmark recording was 10 years in the making. It represents a new and original kind of fusion, as rigorous and serious as any modern classical composition, but which leaves enough improvisational room so that no two live performances are ever the same.
The musicians involved are all world-class players with impeccable pedigrees who’ve put in the time and hard work to become truly fluent in each other’s traditions. Brooklyn Rider, especially, embraced the Persian dastgah format – one of the most demanding in terms of improvisation – to the point where they were comfortable performing in a purely improvisational mode, flying free without a score, no mean feat for musicians used to the precision of the Western classical tradition. By delving so deeply into each other's musical worlds, the musicians here moved beyond merely learning the other's musical language to developing a new, shared language of their own.
The origins of Silent City trace back to the summer of 2000, when cellist Yo-Yo Ma convened his famed Silk Road Project at the Tanglewood Music Center at Lenox, MA. There the three of the four gifted young musicians who would later form Brooklyn Rider – Colin Jacobsen, Jonathan Gandelsman, Nicholas Cords and later Eric Jacobsen – first encountered Kalhor while performing one of his compositions.
Kalhor, a virtuosic kamancheh (Iranian spiked fiddle) player and composer steeped in the Persian classical tradition, was impressed by the musicianship and openness of their playing, and their affinity for the subtle modes of Persian music. It didn’t take long for the musicians to find common ground exploring the shared Persian and Central Asian origins of their respective bowed instruments (not to mention their shared experiences living in Brooklyn), and delighting in the new possibilities of contrasting the expressive kamancheh with the traditional two violins, viola and cello lineup of a Western string quartet.
The friendship continued to blossom alongside the Silk Road Project tours, and in 2004 two members of Brooklyn Rider traveled to Iran to further pursue their interest in Persian musical traditions. As the group learned more about the classical dastgahs and regional folkloric styles and instruments – meeting with Kalhor and other Silk Road friends and making new acquaintances in Iranian music circles - the outlines of Silent City began to take shape.
Silent City is a four-song suite of original instrumental compositions written by Kalhor, Brooklyn Ryder’s Colin Jacobsen and fellow Silk Road alum Siamak Aghaei. These four compositions – three entirely new and one, “Parvaz,” an inspired reworking of a previous recording by Kalhor - plum the deep wellsprings of Persian myth and folklore for inspiration. Brought to life with the help of bassist Jeff Beecher, percussionist Mark Suter and Siamak Aghale on santoor, the songs bring the adventurous, improvisatory spirit of New Classical Music to bear on some of the most ancient texts and images in the Persian canon, and paint a picture as vivid as the work of any of the great Persian miniaturists.
“Ascending Bird,” co-arranged by Colin Jacobsen and Aghaei, is the recording’s first track, and marries a traditional melody to an original introduction -- offering a dynamic take on an ancient Zoroastrian tale of a bird that flies too close to the sun. This same story is reprised on “Parvaz” (Persian for “Flight”), a stunning original composition by Kalhor that finds the master performing on both his kamancheh and the setar, a four-stringed, long-necked wooden lute favored by Iranian storytellers. The brighter tone of the setar propels this allegorical tale while mirroring its themes of spiritual ecstasy and transcendence.
Themes of spiritual love and transcendence also take flight on “Beloved, do not let me be discouraged,” the recording’s closing track, composed by Colin Jacobsen. The song takes its title from a verse by 16th century poet Fuzűlî, from his retelling of the legendary Layla and Majnun romance – a tale as synonymous with star-crossed lovers in the Middle East as Romeo and Juliet in the West. Here Jacobson spins a fragment from Hajibeyov’s operatic treatment of this same story into a tour-de-force that evokes the feverish longing of separated lovers.
But perhaps the most powerful piece in this suite is the recording’s title track. “Silent City” is a quiet, mournful meditation on the fate of the Kurdish Iraqi city of Halabja, which Saddam Hussein’s forces infamously attacked with chemical weapons in 1988, killing thousands of civilians. The piece incorporates improvised passages and Turkish and Kurdish melodies in an elegiac, slowly building paean to lost civilizations and the enduring power of life and hope to triumph over darkness and despair – all the more remarkable for being fully improvised.
These songs, born of the marriage of two great high art traditions, represent is a new musical standard, more perfectly melded, more precise, yet more free than anything that’s come before. The musicians’ deep study and intimate understanding of each other’s musical traditions, have yielded a recording that’s as challenging for a Persian classical music lover in Iran as it is for a classical music aficionado in New York. They’ve also demonstrated how a mutual love of music can transcend borders, politics and governments to unite people in true friendship and respect.
KAYHAN KALHOR was born in Teheran, Iran. A child prodigy on the kamancheh (spike fiddle), he performed with the prestigious National Orchestra of Radio and Television of Iran and the Shayda Ensemble of the Chavosh Cultural Center while still a teenager. Deeply devoted to the Iranian classical repertoire (radif), he was further inspired to study regional folkloric traditions, which added additional dimensions to his improvisations and acted as springboards for inter-cultural explorations. Since then, Kayhan has performed and recorded with Iran’s greatest singers and instrumentalists and toured the world as a soloist. He co-founded the Dastan, Ghazal: Persian & Indian Improvisations and Masters of Persian Music ensembles and has appeared with the New York Philharmonic, the Orchestre National de Lyon, and others. Kayhan has created new scores and his music has been used for various television and film projects. He was featured soloist on the soundtrack of Francis Ford Coppola’s Youth Without Youth, a score he collaborated on with Osvaldo Golijov. In 2004, he gave a solo recital at Carnegie Hall as part of American composer John Adams’ “Perspectives” series and, later that year, shared a double bill at Lincoln Center’s “Mostly Mozart” Festival. Kayhan is an original member of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Project and his works are heard on all of the Ensemble’s albums. Three of his recordings, including his two previous World Village releases, Faryad and Without You, were nominated for GRAMMY® Awards.
The innovative string quartet BROOKLYN RIDER (Johnny Gandelsman, violin, Colin Jacobsen, violin, Nicholas Cords, viola and Eric Jacobsen, cello), is named for the members’ beloved home borough and Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) an interdisciplinary, Munich-based German expressionist movement that flourished during the early twentieth century. The quartet has been challenging and delighting audiences ever since its inception by dividing its time between exploring classic repertoire, the creation of new works, and fervently adventurous intercultural explorations. They have performed with major orchestras and graced diverse venues and music festivals around the world as well as being active as educators. Aside from their individual affiliations with Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Project, Brooklyn Rider has worked with composers Chen Yi, Osvaldo Golijov, Dimitry Yanov-Yanovsky, Shirish Korde and Kayhan Kalhor as well as diverse figures like violinist Jenny Scheinman, Chinese pipa virtuoso Wu Man, singer songwriter Christina Courtin and visual artist Kevork Mourad. Brooklyn Rider has been profiled on WNYC’s Soundcheck, and Minnesota Public Radio and, in November, 2007, helped curate a week-long residency at National Public Radio’s Performance Today. Their interpretation of the complete quartets of Philip Glass will be released on Orange Mountain Music, the composer’s own label, later this year.