Worldwide Locations

Worldwide Locations

Festival of Arts, Shiraz-Persepolis


Iranian classical or traditional music, musiqi-ye aseel, (lit., “authentic music”), which is Iran’s highest and most treasured performing art—as is poetry in the literary domain and miniature painting in the visual—was the heart and core of the festival’s programming. Several concerts were offered each year in Hafezieh, an ideal setting where Hafez, a 14th century native of Shiraz who is considered Iran’s greatest lyric poet of all time lies in a white marble tomb etched with his memorable verses under the shade of a stepped, open pavilion in a jasmine-scented garden.

Beginning in 1967 and through 1977, the greatest instrumentalists, singers and ensembles of traditional Iranian music selected in consultation with experts from the Bureau of Music of the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, Radio Iran and NITV appeared in concert at the festival. Until then, live performances of this genre of music were confined to small, elite circles that enjoyed the music in their private homes; meantime, the market for popular music was growing exponentially across the country. Traditional music was on the decline as even the most respected musicians had stopped playing the modal systems (dastgāhs) in their entirety, resorting instead to shortened versions more palatable for public consumption and using little extemporization, which is a vital characteristic of the music. These barriers were removed for the first time on a large scale at the festival, which provided conditions that allowed the depth, breadth and the potential of classical Iranian music to be revealed and enjoyed by large publics. The effect was transformative, such that even notable Iranian musicians who as a matter of course refrained from performing publicly agreed to appear at the festival, Saeed Hormozi and Dariush Safvat, among them.

Four concerts were offered during the inaugural festival in 1967, with all seven major modes performed by the most renowned instrumentalists, among them, Ali-Akbar Shahnazi, tar; Ahmad Ebadi, setar; Jalil Shahnaz, tar; Hassan Kassa’i, ney; Faramarz Payvar, santour; Ali-Asqar Bahari, kamancheh; and Hossein Tehrani, tombak, and vocalists, Hossein Qavami and Mahmoud Karimi accompanied by several ensembles led by tar player, Nasrollah Zarrinpanjeh.
News of the event spread around town by word of mouth and through public media. The concert on the second night played to a packed, standing room only audience with spectators lined up all the way back against the garden rails. From then on, on nights when the adjacent site, Hafezieh Stadium, was free, the music was amplified over the garden walls to the delight of non-ticketed publics who gathered outside to listen.

The festival’s goal—which was achieved at the outset and sustained to the end— had been to present unadulterated, authentic Iranian music with the respect due the art and its foremost exponents. As a result, not only Iranians came to appreciate and respect their own traditions, but foreign critics posted reviews of Iranian music in the international press with the same level of interest and respect accorded classical Indian, Chinese and Japanese music.

In subsequent years, a new generation of gifted artists joined the roster of musicians that appeared at the festival, while NIRT’s Center for the Preservation and Propagation of Music (Markaz-e Hefz va Esha’eh Musiqi), established in 1969 under the direction of Dr. Dariush Safvat, brought additional benefit in terms of research, training, and programming.

While the prominent musicians named earlier continued to perform at the festival, other recognized masters also appeared in concert, including vocalists Abdolvahab Shahidi and Taj Esfahani, Bigjekhani, tar, with Farnam, daf, and the Malek brothers, santour, kamancheh, and tombak. A new standard was set when the young masters took to the stage performing with highly proficient ensembles each named after their leader, in the case of Dariush Tala’i, tar and Hossein Alizadeh, tar and setar, the Sheyda and the Soma’i ensembles, the former led by Mohammad-Reza Lotfi, tar and the latter by Majid Kiani-Nejad, ney. Young virtuoso singers Siavosh Shajarian, Noureddin Razavi and Parisa were also introduced at the festival.

Watching two generations of musicians bring the exquisite spirit of traditional Iranian music to life side by side was to experience the sublime; it refreshed the art, artists and audiences alike, as if in a nod to Hafez’s verse, ‘I may be old, but hold me tight in your arms one night and I’ll wake up young by your side at dawn’:
گرچه پيرم، تو شبى تنگ درآغوشم كش
تا سحرگه ز كنار تو جوان برخيزم
The festival also presented regional Iranian music, which although highly sophisticated and prized locally, was not considered a fine art nationally. A shift in perception of this genre of music started with the appearance of Asheqs from Azarbaijan and musicians from Kurdistan in the early years of the festival, while a dramatic rise in its stature became palpable beginning in 1973 as the “Group for the Collection and Research of Regional Music”10 founded at NIRT under the direction of Fowzieh Majd contributed more varieties of programs. Master musicians from Baluchestan, Khorassan and the Persian Gulf, none of whom had performed outside their region, found an audience mesmerized by the quality of their music that was invariably meditative, festive, romantic, heroic, and mystical. Collectively, they broadened the horizon of Iranian music and its audience in ways unimaginable before.

Highlights of the regional music, instruments and artists from Khorassan included dotar players Nazar-Mohammad Soleymani and Morad-Ali Ahmadi; dotar players and singers, Mohammad-Hossein Yeganeh who performed the tale of the Sufi king, Ebrahim Adham, and Olia Qoli Yeganeh who was invited back by popular demand the following year and performed Gharib and Shah Sanam, the romance of Zohreh and Taher and songs from the Kour Oqli cycle. Baluchi epic tales formed part of a program titled “Bards and their Music” with Lal Baksh Peyk (vocals and tanbireh), accompanied by Qolam-Heydar Baluch on the sorud (a 3-stringed lute). Also from Baluchestan, the festival hosted “Guati Rituals & Music” led by Karimbaksh Ostadi, principal singer and tanbireh player; as well as a Noban and Zar healing ritual from the Persian Gulf island of Qeshm, with Baba Darvish and Mama Hanifa, Zar leaders.
The events were a sensation from start to finish.

Iran and India share deep historical and cultural roots going back to Indo-European times, while Persian, which was the official language of the Mughal Empire remained the language of literature and science through the 19th century and is cultivated among learned Indians even today. Yet Iranians had no firsthand experience of the performing arts of South or East Asia in the 1960s. The Shiraz festival, while placing a special emphasis on the traditional music of Iran also turned the spotlight on a vast array of performing arts from India all the way to China, Japan and the Philippines.

The master instrumentalists who brought the gift of Bhairavi, Darbari, and other grand ragas of classical Indian music to an increasingly appreciative audience at the festival included Balachander, veena, the unsurpassed Bismillah Khan, shehnai, Amjad Ali Khan and Sharan Rani, sarod, Ram Narayan, sarangi, Ravi Shankar, sitar, Shiv Kumar Sharma, santoor, Vilayat Khan, sitar, and Debabrata Chaudhuri, sitar, accompanied by Faiyaz Khan on the tabla. The sound of Hariprasad Chaurasia’s bansuri, the storied bamboo flute known as Lord Krishna’s divine instrument, left the audience spellbound. Classical Indian singing was performed, among others, by Nasir Aminuddin Dagar, the pre-eminent exponent of the dhrupad; and by Pran Nath, a master of Kirana Gharana whose austere singing style attracted minimalist composers in the U.S. in the 1970s. “Pabuji Ki Phad,” a traditional folk art form from Rajasthan was also part of the repertoire of Indian music presented at the festival.

A short list of traditional music from other parts of the world includes three types of gamelan from Bali and Java, Indonesia; “Lhamo,” a 400-year-old folk opera by exiled Tibetans from Dharmsala; Sufi devotional music by Aziz Miyan, a master of Qawwali from Pakistan; Arabic music by the Iraqi master of the Oud, Munir Bashir; Tunisian liturgical music, Berber Songs of Kabylie; Algerian music by Marie-Louise Taos Amrouche; and saidi, a form of folk music from Upper Egypt performed by the Musicians of the Nile Delta led by Metqal Qenawi Metqal. From Japan came Kinshi Tsuruta (biwa and vocals), Tadao Sawai, koto, and Katsuya Yokoyama, shakuhachi, and from Vietnam, the great musician and teacher, Trần Văn Khê.

Classical Western music had almost a century-old history in Iran and a serious, if relatively small group of adepts mostly concentrated in the capital. The festival’s mission in this category was to offer the finest of the classical repertoire and also make known the best in the contemporary and the avant-garde.

The inaugural year in 1967 opened with a concert by the National Iranian Television Chamber Orchestra11 conducted by Vahe Khochayan in a performance of Pergolesi’s ‘Salve Regina’ with Iranian soprano, Nasrin Azarmi, and ended with the World Premiere of ‘Kakuti, a dance for her’ by Iranian composer Morteza Hannaneh. Yehudi Menuhin was the soloist for the orchestra’s second concert; pianists Elzbieta Glabowna and Iranian artist Novin Afrouz also performed in the same year. The final event was a concert by the L’Orchestre du Domaine Musical led by Gilbert Amy in a program of Varèse, Messiaen, and Mozart, and the World Premiere of Amy’s ‘Relais’.

A selective list of notable artists in the following years includes, in 1968, Arthur Rubinstein, Christian Ferras with Pierre Barbizet; and Cathy Berberian who gave the first staged performance of her Stripsody. Martha Argerich was featured in recital in 1969, the year that also saw the World Premiere of Xenakis’s Persephassa with Les Percussions de Strasbourg, which spoke to that year’s central theme, ‘percussion;’ the ensemble also offered a separate concert that included the World Premiere of Betsy Jolas’s États. Also in 1969, L’Orchestre National de l’ORTF led by Jean Martinon performed Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique and Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps; the orchestra was also led by Bruno Maderna in a program that included Messiaen’s Et Exspecto Resurrectionem Mortuorum performed in the presence of the composer. The Juilliard Quartet was featured in the 4th festival in 1970.

Two World Premieres were hosted in 1971, Xenakis’s Persepolis and Bruno Maderna’s Ausstrahlung, a festival commission, with soloists Berberian, Verheul and Faber, Maderna himself leading The Hague Residence Orchestra, a concert that the great Dutch flautist, Verheul considered ‘one of the highlights of his career.’12 Iranian conductor Farhad Mechkat also led the same orchestra in a program that ranged from Baroque to contemporary music. The Moscow Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Barshai also appeared in 1971 as did the Cracow Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir in concerts led by Katlewicz. John Cage, Tudor and Mumma performed a concert, and also collaborated with Merce Cunningham on a separate program at the 1972 festival.

A week-long Stockhausen retrospective was also held in 1972. Students turned out in droves at Saray-e Moshir, squatting on the floor in shirt sleeves and jeans to hear him. At the Delgosha Garden where he performed his ‘Sternklang’ the crowd almost got out of hand as they rushed the stage and climbed telegraph poles to get a better look, an image emblematic of the festival whose audience grew increasingly young and engaged, presumably because they heard the music in an environment that encouraged openness, curiosity, exploration, and participation with the rest of the world through the arts. To say that foreign artists and visitors were just as excited by their experience in Shiraz is an understatement. Gordon Mumma described the 1972 festival as “one of the most extraordinary cultural experiences of my life.”13

The 1974 festival featured the London Sinfonietta, David Atherton and Mary Thomas, and in 1975, the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra, Penderecki conducting his own compositions, and also led by Maksymiuk in a program of Ravel and Mussorgsky. In 1976, the American Brass Quintet offered a rich program of music from the 17th c. to Elliot Carter as well as the World Premiere of ‘Contradictions’ by Iranian composer Alireza Mashayekhi. Another World Premier that year was ‘Iranian Set’ by Bogulaw Schäffer, a work based on Persian poetry, with Adam Kaczynski leading Ensemble MW2. The 11th festival in 1977 featured the composer Morton Feldman and the Creative Associates.

The works of several other Iranian composers were premiered throughout the festival,14 including Dariush Dowlatshahi, Hormoz Farhat, Fowzieh Majd, Alireza Mashayekhi, Mohammad-Taghi Masoudieh, Houshang Ostovar, Massoud Pourfarrokh, and Manouchehr Sahba’i.

American blues and jazz was presented in 1969 featuring the great percussionist, drummer and composer Max Roach leading his Max Roach Quintet, and vocalist and songwriter Abbey Lincoln; and in 1970, the gospel, soul, and R&B group, the Staple Singers.