Majid Derakhshani and the singer Alireza Ghorbani and his ensemble were scheduled to perform Persian love songs at the Easter festival »Silk Road«. After the festival had to be cancelled, he can however be heard in a concert stream broadcast from the empty Elbphilharmonie. Derakhshani plays the long-necked flute known as the tar, and is accompanied by Saeid Zamani on the santur.
Majid Derakhshani was born in 1957 in the north Iranian province of Sangesar, and is one of his country's most important musicians. He studied art, stringed instruments and composition in Teheran, and has made more than 34 albums; he has also played at major festivals outside Iran. He was the founder of the internationally successful Shahnaz Ensemble, and of a centre for Persian music in Cologne. Derakhshani bears the venerable title »Ostad«, denoting him as a master of his instrument. In his compositions he concentrates on the cultivation of classic Persian music, which he mixes at the same time with European influences. As he has been banned from entering Iran or working there owing to his cooperation with female musicians, who are not allowed to appear in public in the country, Derakhshani has since settled in Hamburg.
Classic Persian music sparkles at the centre of the Silk Road like a great treasure chest. It has been based for over a thousand years on the so-called »dastgah«, twelve scales with a specific pitch, which are like smaller caskets lying within the treasure chest. And these caskets in turn are packed full of pearls, hundreds of little melodic phrases called »gusheh«. The name given to this great treasure chest of classic Persian music is »radif«.
Anyone who wants to became a master musician or ostad like Majid Derakhshani needs to be thoroughly familiar with the radif in all its sparkling component parts. But the radif is different from conventional treasure chests in that every treasure hunter increases the value and wealth of this great body of music. Taking inspiration from the moment, a musician like Derakhshani makes the gems glow time and again with different facets, polishing them with new embellishments and improvisation, sometimes adding a few pieces of gold that he has minted himself, and crowning everything with virtuosity.
A central feature of this treasure hunt is the path followed: unlike in Western classical music with its almost always clearly defined intervals and linear melodic progressions, the aim here is to savour to the full the winding path leading from one note or idea to the next, and to listen to the space and also the silence between them. This produces elaborate suites in one particular dastgah in each case, which often conclude with a »tasnif«, a type of song.
Unlike in Western classical music, the aim here is to savour to the full the winding path leading from one note or idea to the next, and to listen to the space between them.
The long-necked lute »tar«
The long-necked lute played in Iran (and also in Azerbaijan) was developed some 250 years ago. It has a much more powerful and voluminous sound than the older setar, and unlike the latter is suited for a performance to a larger audience. The soundbox joins two heart shapes to form a figure 8, a form that is often found in Persian architecture. The tar is made of wood from the mulberry tree, with the strings being mounted on a stretched membrane of parchment made of lambskin. It has a range of roughly two-and-a-half octaves produced by six strings of copper or steel, which are played using a plectrum.
Texts: Stefan Franzen / Francois Kremer, last updated: 8 April 2020