Tuesday, September 27, 2022

A closer look at Iran’s National Orchestra

A closer look at Iran’s National Orchestra through the eyes of a renowned composer.

Farhad Fakhreddini is a renowned Iranian composer and conductor who led Iran’s Radio and Television Orchestra (1973-1979) and went on to lead Iran’s National Orchestra (1998-2009). He has composed music for several popular TV series such as Sarbedaran, Roozi Roozegari and Imam Ali. Niusha Mazidabadi of Tajrobeh (Experience) has interviewed this prominent musician of late. The following is an excerpt of the interview published in a 30th issue of the monthly out in July 2014:

You have been a conductor both before and after the revolution and have worked with many musicians. How do you think Iranian orchestra is faring?

In the past what would worry me most was the small number of vocational schools for music in Tehran. When I was a teacher at the National Vocational School for Music, I would tell my colleagues, “I wish we had at least five such schools across Tehran so that students wouldn’t have to travel all the way from faraway neighborhoods of the capital to this school.” That wish was not granted, besides big cities such as Isfahan, Shiraz and Mashhad didn’t have music schools at all and no one seemed to be caring. After the revolution, things changed and the government cared less about music, but that didn’t stop people showing more and more interest in music. One of the reasons for growing interest in music was that parents felt it was safer to entertain their children at home, rather than let them pursue outdoor hobbies. Consequently, a large number of youngsters found their way into the world of music. […]

You think the number of musicians has increased as compared with before the revolution?

The numbers are not comparable. Before the revolution, we wished to have more youngsters signing up for music courses at vocational schools. After the revolution, private institutes cropped up. Famous musicians taught in theses institutes and many of those who took their music courses turned out to be good musicians themselves. I believe Iranian musicians are in good shape today.

Prior to the revolution, the academic aspect of music seemed to be stronger. Quality-wise, do you think musicians today are better than their pre-revolution peers?

I cannot answer that question definitively. What I can say is that the enthusiasm of today was non-existent in the past. I have also conducted orchestras elsewhere in the world, but the warm welcome concerts receive here in Iran is unique. I believe the fact that the Iranian broadcaster does not cover concerts should be credited for the warm welcome music events receive here in Iran. It should be noted that orchestral performances are far from lucrative, given that ticket prices are low and government does not lend financial support to the music industry. Up to 50 percent of what is fetched in a concert is spent on the organization of the event and on the pay of musicians. Let me assure you, in the absence of real fervor, musicians won’t achieve much. What is promising is that young musicians are still in contact with and taught by their older peers. I too belong to a generation of older musicians. I have played music in different orchestras. I don’t want to sound self-complimentary, but I belong in the ranks of musicians who have trained great students. It is an undeniable fact that some of my students have shined in different parts of the world including in Moscow, Vienna, Saint Petersburg, Toronto, etc. Anytime the Symphony Orchestra wanted to bring a new musician on board, the National Orchestra was the first place it would look at.

Let’s shift our focus back to the National Orchestra. Ever since the 11th government came to power, both [Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance] Mr. Jannati and [his deputy Ali] Moradkhani have announced their intention to revive the National Orchestra and the Symphony Orchestra. A few months ago when you and Mr. Sahbai were officially named as leaders of the two orchestras, everyone knew something was on the horizon. But most recently, it has been announced that musicians willing to take up position in the orchestra have to take a test. Do you think the test is necessary?

They ran the test by me first. It is designed to identify talented musicians who haven’t been able to find their way into the orchestra. Under new the arrangements those who are capable will be given a chance to be admitted to the orchestra.

As a conductor you have always tried to maintain your independence. Some musicians, though, compose anything someone places an order for. How have you managed to maintain your artistic independence?

I work on things that are close to my beliefs. For instance, I composed the soundtrack of Avicenna TV series because I believed he was a great philosopher who attached importance to music. It is a great pleasure for me to have composed for such a great individual. Although someone had placed an order for the soundtrack, for me it was a labor of love.

What about the soundtrack of Imam Ali TV series?

Well the lyrics of that series were my biggest musical discovery. In my research I found out that those lyrics dated back to the time Prophet Muhammad was still alive. WhenMuawiyah asked the Prophet what made him so elated that his Abaya slipped off his shoulders onto the ground, the Prophet said, “The words conjure up the memory of a friend, and when the memory of a friend is brought up, one should get happy.” The relics date back to 14 or 15 centuries ago and I used them in the music of Imam Ali TV series. That was the result of a very long study involving ancient Iranian songs. Some might suggest that I have walked off the path of the Iranian music. That is not true.

In conclusion, if the NationalOrchestra is reinstated, do you have a repertoire to work on?

If we had enough money, we’d call up as many musicians as we can afford. In the National Orchestra players of Iranian instruments are not going to be a fixture. But if on a certain occasion, we had to play Iranian instruments, we would invite guest musicians and solo performance would be at the center of pieces involving Iranian instruments. Pieces are being composed for the orchestra. We don’t want to be singer-centered so that we can bring different instruments to the attention of the public. That said, we will introduce new singers to the artistic community. We hope to have the budgetary arrangements in place so that we can get the show on the road in a few months.

The original title of the interview which appeared in Tajrobeh Monthly was “Distance from Singer-centeredness”.
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