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Stay-Home World Tour Stop #2: Masters of Persian Music

By Alexander Hough in Arts & Entertainment on Feb 22, 2010 10:20PM

Photo by Mohammad Kheirkah
Our staycation continues Tuesday night when the Masters of Persian Music perform at Symphony Center. Persian classical music is ancient - some suggest it predates the 7th-century Muslim conquest - and for most of its history was only heard by the upper crust. The decline of royal power at the beginning of the 20th century, as well as the subsequent invention and development of recording and radio broadcast technology, led to a spreading of the music. Although its popularity ebbed during post-World War Two Westernization, the 1979 Islamic Revolution led to a renewed interest in a national cultural identity, and Persian classical music once against flourished, even in the face of the theocracy's stance against music and other fun things.

The music itself is heavily improvised and is intertwined with, and often formally based on, Sufi poetry. On Tuesday night, the florid vocal lines that cover a vast range to the upper reaches of the chest voice, will mainly be provided by the young Hamid Reza Nourbakhsh, a student of the legendary Mohammad Reza Shajarian, the group's original singer.

Although the music was traditionally performed by one or two musicians, times are a-changin', and the Masters of Persian Music include six other members: Kayhan Kalhor on a special five-string version of the kemancheh, the normally four-string spike fiddle that has an ethereal sound reminiscent of a violin bowed on the fingerboard; Hossein Alizadeh on tar, the long-necked Persian lute; Fairborz Azizi on bass tar; Siamak Jahangiry on ney, a beautifully breathy-sounding flute played with an unusual off-centered embrouchure; Hamid Reza Maleki on santur, which is a hammered dulcimer; and Pezham Akhavass on tombak, a hand drum.

Keep your Thursday and Friday nights free, more world music is on the way.

Tuesday at 7:30 p.m., Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan Ave., $20-$70