Persia (modern day Iran) is home to one of the world’s great civilizations, and a unique culture with venerable traditions. One of the most dynamic Persian traditions is Musiqi-e assil, or Persian classical music, which has lately undergone an extraordinary artistic renaissance. In the last twenty years a new generation of artists has emerged to introduce new innovations and push the music forward, even as they preserve and pass on the ancient repertoire.

At the forefront of this movement are four virtuosi -- Mohammad Reza Shajarian, Hussein Alizadeh, Kahn Kalhor and Homayoun Shajarian, known collectively as The Masters of Persian Music. As individual musicians each is a master of his instrument and a star in Iran. Together they comprise a veritable super group of Persian classical music.

The foursome first came together in 2001, for a historic, 14-city North American tour. The response was so enthusiastic and overwhelming that what was then considered a once-in-a-lifetime gathering of living legends soon blossomed into a genuine phenomenon, with another, sold-out tour in 2002. The quartet also recorded two albums for the American market, Without You (World Village), which received a 2003 Grammy nomination, and the 2005 release Faryad (World Village), also nominated for a Grammy, Haunting and lyrical, the recording is based in the Rastpanjgah mode of the Persian repertoire and takes its inspiration from the work of such Persian poets as Sa’adi, Hafez, and Ghorrat ol Ein. The album features traditional songs from the Persian classical canon, as well as new compositions by Alizadeh, Kalhor and Mohammad Reza Shajarian.

2005 also saw the release of the Persian language DVD “Hamnava ba Bam” (Remembering Bam, also on World Village), the group’s record-breaking Tehran benefit concerts for the victims of the 2003 earthquake in Bam, Iran.

Persian Classical Music - OVERVIEW

Persian classical music (Musiqi-e assil) has a venerable past, rooted in Iran’s unique history and culture. Sitting astride the old Silk Road, Iran has been one of history’s most prominent actors from antiquity right down to today’s headlines. It’s been the seat of empire and a land subject to many invaders (from Alexander the Great to Genghis Khan); a center of religious learning and a great, cosmopolitan trading crossroads that has proudly maintained a distinct cultural identity for millennia. All of this has left an indelible stamp on Persian classical music.

Originally the music of the medieval royal courts, Persian classical music is deeply spiritual, and linked to Islam’s mystical Sufi tradition through devotional poetry. This hypnotic modal music is stately and reflective, a vehicle for meditation and contemplation that still allows room for remarkable flights of solo improvisation and spontaneity. Traditionally, the music is performed by a vocalist and an accompanist, with an emphasis on vocal ornamentation and improvisation. One of the innovations of the Masters of Persian Music has been their work as an ensemble, which gives new depth and dimension to the music while still allowing each musician to improvise as a soloist. As a quartet, the musicians are also able to experiment with new melodic and polyphonic structures previously unheard in the Persian classical repertoire. Another innovation has been the elevation of instrumental music in recent years, something that was once viewed as mere accompaniment to the voice. Hossein Alizadeh (tar)and Kayhan Kalhor (kamancheh) especially have contributed to a new respect for instrumental Persian music, composing new works for instruments only.


Singer Mohammad Reza Shajarian is a living legend. He’s the undisputed master of Persian classical song and posses of the most recognizable voices in Iran. Born in 1940 in the city of Mashhad, Shajarian started singing at the age of five under the supervision of his father. At the age of twelve he began studying the traditional classical repertoire (radif) with the great masters of the tradition, including Ahmad Ebadi, Esmaeel Mehrtash and Abdollah Davami, from whom he learnt the most ancient tasnifs (songs). He began singing professionally in 1959 at Radio Khorasan and has been a staple of Iranian radio, television and recordings ever since, leading the Persian classical music renaissance that took hold after the 1979 revolution. In 1999 UNESCO presented him with the prestigious Picasso Medal in France and in 2000, the Ministry of Culture in Iran declared him “Best Classical Vocalist.” A series of U.S. reissues of Shajarian’s classic Iranian recordings will launch this year with the release of “Bidad” on World Village/Harmonia Mundi USA.

Kamancheh (spike fiddle) player Kayhan Kalhor was born in Tehran in 1963. A child prodigy, Kalhor began his musical studies at age seven, and at thirteen was invited to work in the Iranian National Radio and Television Orchestra. At seventeen, he began working with the Shayda Ensemble of the Chavosh Cultural Center, the most prestigious arts organization in Iran. He also studied the Iranian classical repertoire with different masters, as well as absorbing various regional styles. He studied Western classical music in Rome and he received a degree in music at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. Kalhor has composed works for Iran's most renowned vocalists, including Mohammad Reza Shajarian and Shahram Nazeri, and he has also performed with Iran's greatest masters, including Faramarz Payvar and Hussein Alidade. In 1991 he co-founded Dastan, the renowned Persian classical music ensemble, and in 1997 he formed the unique ensemble Ghazal with Shujaat Husain Khan, to explore improvisations based on Persian and Indian music. He’s also collaborated with the Kronos Quartet, and Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Project. His latest release of Kurdish music, In the Mirror of the Sky (2004), pairs him with Ali Akbar Moradi.

Tar (plucked lute) player and composer Hossein Alizadeh was born in Tehran in 1951. After graduating from the Tehran Music Conservatory, he entered the School of Music of the University of Tehran in 1975 where he received his degree in composition and performance. He also studied with various masters of traditional Persian music. Alizadeh was awarded a position with the National Orchestra of Iran and later became the conductor and soloist of the Iranian National Radio and Television Orchestra. He founded the Aref Ensemble and performed with the Shayda Ensemble. In the early 1980s, he further expanded his formal education by studying composition and musicology at the University of Berlin. In 2000, the Ministry of Culture in Iran declared him the country’s best contemporary artist. As a teacher he has trained many young musicians and has written and published a number of etudes for tar and setar (lute). He has composed many works of contemporary and neo-classical Iranian music as well as several film scores including Gabbeh and A Time for Drunken Horses. He has taught at the University of Tehran, the Tehran Music Conservatory and the California Institute of the Arts. His new World Village CD “Endless Vision” is a collaboration with Armenian duduk master Djivan Gasparyan. The CD explores the centuries-old link between Persian classical music and Armenian folk traditions...

Homayoun Shajarian born in 1975, is the son of master vocalist Mohammad Reza Shajarian. He began playing tombak (goblet drum) at the age of five and later attended the Tehran Conservatory of Music. As well as tombak, Homayoun plays the kamancheh and studies the Persian vocal tradition with his father. Since 1991 he has played in many ensembles accompanying his father in concerts in Europe, Iran and North America. His 2001 tour with the Masters of Persian Music ensemble marked his debut as a vocalist. As a disciple of his father, Homayoun has developed many similar vocal qualities and represents a new generation in the great Persian vocal tradition.