Kayhan Kalhor
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Kayhan Kalhor

West Orange, New Jersey, United States | INDIE

West Orange, New Jersey, United States | INDIE
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"Top of The World"

There are many ways you might have encountered Kayhan Kalhorís music. An undisputed master of the kamancheh (spiked fiddle), Kalhor helped fuse Persian folk and classical music with Indian raga on Ghazalís four CDs and is a founder of cellist Yo-Yo Maís incredible Silk Road Project. Here he pushes the boat out even further, joining ultra-contemporary US string quartet Brooklyn Rider for a sublime set of stunning new music.
Kalhor, who is Iranian, met the Rider foursome at a Silk Road Project workshop in the US in 2000. One inspiring visit to Iran later and Silent City began to evolve. Bassist Jeff Beecher, percussionist Mark Suter and santur player Siamak Aghaei were added to the line-up for the four tracks ñ one of which, the extended title-track, developed out of a live US performance in 2005. Whilst this piece has complex, contrasting movements ñ from racy string sections to panoramic ambient drones ñ itís the other shorter pieces which work best on CD, literally raising the hairs on the back of the neck.
Silent City kicks off at a breathless pace on ëAscending Birdí, where Kalhorís kamancheh holds its own among the twin violinists, Colin Jacobsen and Jonathan Gandelsman. ëParvazí and ëBelovedí are less racy, but, if anything, even more beautiful with Kalhorís lute-like setar hypnotic on the former and the Rider quartet working as a single, pulsing musical membrane on the latter. This is outstanding, unforgettable music, overlapping East and Western classical and folk modes in a wonder of world fusion.
Charles de Ledesma
- Songlines


"Best of 2008"

Kayhan Kalhor is one of Iran’s outstanding musicians. Here he joins his kamancheh (spike fiddle) to the innovative New York string quartet, Brooklyn Rider. The title track is a memorial to Halabja where up to 5,000 Iraqi Kurds were gassed by Saddam Hussein in 1998. By contrast, “Ascending Bird” which opens the album, is largely a furious dance which sweeps all before it in an exhilarating swirl of strings. With extra color from santur, setar and tombak, this music of great profundity, drawing on the rich wellsprings of Western and Persian - Songlines


"A Master Iranian Musician Plays Cultural Ambassador"

August 27, 2008
A Master Iranian Musician Plays Cultural Ambassador
By VIVIEN SCHWEITZER

In “Silent City,” a hypnotic work commemorating Halabjah, a Kurdish village annihilated by Saddam Hussein, the kamancheh, an upright four-stringed Persian fiddle, breaks out in a lamenting wail based on a traditional Turkish melody.

“Silent City” is included on a new disc of the same name on the World Village label, which Kayhan Kalhor, a virtuoso kamancheh player, recorded with the young string quartet Brooklyn Rider.

The work opens with a desolate murmuring improvised by the strings, eerily evoking the swirling dust of barren ruins, with a Kurdish melody heralding the rebuilding of the destroyed village. It has a particular resonance for Mr. Kalhor, 45, who was born in Tehran to a family of Kurdish descent. The sound of the kamancheh is “warm and very close to the human voice,” he said by phone from Tehran, where he now lives.

He began studying the kamancheh at 7 and playing with Iran’s National Orchestra of Radio and Television at 13. He left the country after the Islamic Revolution (when universities were closed for several years) and lived in several Western countries, including Canada, where he studied music composition at Carleton University in Ottawa. His main motivation for leaving Iran was not political, he said; it was to further his musical studies.

Mr. Kalhor met members of Brooklyn Rider in 2000 at Tanglewood, where they took part in the cellist Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Project. The quartet’s members are Colin Jacobsen and Jonathan Gandelsman, violinists; Nicholas Cords, violist; and Eric Jacobsen, cellist.

“Silent City” is the result of eight years of learning and experimentation, Mr. Cords said. “We enjoyed each other on first meeting and were fascinated with his world, but at the beginning wouldn’t have dreamed of making this recording together.”

The beginning of “Silent City” is improvised, a skill that is integral to the Persian classical music tradition, in which performers base their extemporizing on a collection of melodies and motifs known as the Radif. Western classical musicians rarely improvise, but Brooklyn Rider honed its skills with Mr. Kalhor; Mr. Cords and Colin Jacobsen received further instruction while visiting Iran in 2004. “The improvisation feels like an outgrowth of our friendship,” Mr. Cords said.

The men of Brooklyn Rider also had to learn how to adapt to playing the quarter tones and modes common in Middle Eastern music.

Mr. Kalhor is well versed in cross-cultural partnerships. His many successful musical collaborations include Ghazal, a duo with the Indian sitarist Shujaat Husain Khan. The sitar and kamancheh work well together, Mr. Kalhor said, largely because of the “affinity of the two cultures” and their many historical connections.

He has also performed with the New York Philharmonic and at the Mostly Mozart Festival. On Oct. 18 he will appear at Carnegie Hall. He said he rarely performed in Iran because of the bureaucracy involved in organizing a concert.

Mr. Kalhor, who has incorporated techniques like pizzicatos (not traditionally performed on the kamancheh) into his music, insists on a deep understanding of the musical cultures he works with. “Nowadays with a lot of musical collaborations and fusion music, it’s obvious that the performers really don’t know each other’s culture,” he said.

Sometimes, he added, “I think the producers just put four different guys from different cultures in a studio and want them to jam. This is not going to be my approach.”

As an Iranian musician who frequently performs for Western audiences, Mr. Kalhor, who has lived in New York (he returned to Tehran in 2003), said that he inevitably faced political questions. But he stressed that he was a cultural ambassador, not a politician. “We are always in the middle of politics,” he said, laughing. “We go to a concert and boom, a political question about the government, about the president, etc.”

For that reason, his ensemble with the celebrated Iranian singer Muhammad Reza Shajarian, the singer Homayoun Shajarian and the lute player Hussein Alizadeh is called the Masters of Persian Music, not Iranian Music. “For political reasons, I think we didn’t want people to think it has anything to do with today’s politics of Iran or the U.S. or any culture for that matter,” Mr. Kalhor explained, adding that the culture of Persia (which was renamed Iran in 1935) goes back much further. “When we say Persian we don’t mean today’s Iranian borders.”

Traditional Persian melodies inspire much of “Silent City,” a recording, whose pieces are composed and arranged by Mr. Kalhor, Colin Jacobsen, the violist Ljova and the Iranian santur player Siamak Aghaei. The bassist Jeffrey Beecher, the percussionist Mark Suter and Mr. Aghaei also perform.

The disc opens with “Ascending Bird,” based on a melody (inspired by a mythical tale of a bird trying to fly to the sun) that Mr. Cords and Mr. Jacobsen heard while visiting Iran. It begins with melancholy whispers of melody before exploding into an ecstatic frenzy.

“Parvaz” (Persian for flight), which also explores the soaring-bird theme, features Mr. Kalhor playing the setar (a four-stringed, long-necked wooden Iranian lute), whose bright, jangly line dances with restless fervor above the other strings.

The disc closes with “Beloved, do not let me be discouraged,” whose title is taken from a poem by a 16th-century Turkish writer about ill-fated lovers — an evocative blend of courtly medieval Italian music filtered through a Middle Eastern prism. - New York Times


"Night of Persian Tradition Intimate and Meditative"

October 20, 2008
Music Review | Persian Classical Music
Night of Persian Tradition, Intimate and Meditative
By VIVIEN SCHWEITZER

Western classical musicians strive to make their interpretations memorable while respecting a strict set of criteria regarding notes, dynamics and tempos. With the exception of cadenzas, taking a maverick approach to a score is usually discouraged. In the Persian classical tradition, musicians improvise like jazz players, but only after years spent studying the established repertory.

Improvisation in Iran is the province of experts who have memorized a core set of works known as the radif, which consists of about 200 short modal pieces called gushehs. On Saturday night at Zankel Hall, the Iranian kamancheh player Kayhan Kalhor and his ensemble wove their extemporizing into long contemplative interludes in a program of Persian classical music.

The concert began with an intense, haunting solo by Mr. Kalhor, who held his kamancheh — a small spiked fiddle — upright, while kneeling on a purple cushion. The instrument makes a wide range of sounds, from a nostalgic timbre (like the soft-spoken viola da gamba) in the lower register to a much brighter, clearer hue in the upper register.

When Mr. Kalhor performed, it sounded like a conversation among several instruments, with the varying timbres at times evoking the wailing pleas of disconsolate lovers. From a simple, muted beginning, the music became more intense and embellished, as ornate melodies and ornaments unfolded with calligraphic detail above ostinato bass patterns.

Mr. Kalhor then switched to the setar, a plucked Persian lute. He was joined by the vocalist Hamid Reza Nourbakhsh, Siamak Jahangiry on ney (flute) and Behrooz Jamali on tombak (goblet drum) for three songs interspersed with improvised interludes. In Mr. Kalhor’s setar solos, as with his solos on kamancheh, it sounded as if he were playing multiple instruments.

Songs in the Persian tradition are often set to poems by medieval mystic poets, and both music and poetry are linked to Sufism, the mystical branch of Islam. The ensemble performed without pause on Saturday, an intimate hour of music that seemed a meditative experience for performer and listener alike.

Waves of sound progressed from mournful to more exuberant, then fell back to subdued introspection. The musicians took turns accompanying Mr. Nourbakhsh’s evocative singing, and played solo and as an ensemble, with the earthy timbre of the ney, the gentle rhythms of the tombak and the bright jangly sound of the setar intertwining with poetic refinement.

- New York Times


"Persian-violin master Kayhan Kalhor performs with string quartet at SFJazz"

Kayhan Kalhor has spent much of his adult life introducing Western audiences to the seductive subtleties of Iranian music.

An unsurpassed master of the kamancheh, the ancient four-string Persian spiked violin, Kalhor is a founding member of Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Ensemble and the driving force behind the esteemed groups Dastan, Ghazal and Masters of Persian Music.

After more than two decades of living in Europe and the United States, Kalhor moved back to Iran several years ago. As a player and composer he is still devoted to his work as a musical ambassador, a role he's taken to new heights with his latest project, "Silent City," an extraordinary collaboration with the string quartet Brooklyn Rider released last September on World Village. He performs the Bay Area premiere of the "Silent City" project with Brooklyn Rider at the Palace of the Fine Arts Theatre on April 5 as part of the SFJazz spring season.

"I've been around really first-rate musicians, Yo-Yo Ma, other classical musicians who made me aware of things I might have just disregarded," says Kalhor, 46, speaking by phone from a motel in upstate New York. "Living abroad for almost a quarter century, I always wanted to learn about other cultures. We live in a world where we can't just be one-dimensional in anything we do."

Born into a Kurdish family in Tehran, Kalhor was still a child when he started attracting attention with his preternatural talent on the kamancheh. He
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spent his teenage years as a featured soloist with the National Orchestra of Radio and Television of Iran. While immersing himself in the Persian classical repertoire, a body of music stretching back thousands of years and known as the radif, he also studied Kurdish folkloric music, which became a launching pad for his cross-cultural collaborations with musicians from India, Turkey and beyond.

"I believe the radif is the bricks to build the building, not the building itself," Kalhor says. "I think the radif is a pure form to learn music, a musical alphabet. When you learn that, you're just in the beginning of the journey."

"Silent City" is his most powerful album yet. The title track is a nearly half-hour piece he created in response to Saddam Hussein's destruction of the Kurdish Iraqi city of Halabja at the end of the Iran-Iraq war. Starting with a devastated hush, it slowly builds to an incantatory lament on the kamancheh based on a traditional Turkish melody.

"There are very few pieces in life that affect you like this when you first hear them, maybe Mahler or Miles Davis or 'Rite of Spring' — it's that kind of revelation," says composer Osvaldo Golijov, who first got to know Kalhor in 2000 when they both contributed to Kronos Quartet's Nonesuch album "Caravan."

Golijov has looked for opportunities to work with Kalhor ever since, and the composer featured Kalhor's haunting kamancheh on his score for Francis Ford Coppola's 2007 film "Youth Without Youth." When Golijov first tried to describe Kalhor's sound to the director, Coppola was unimpressed.

"But when he heard it he wanted to use it all over the place," Golijov says. "It has a tenderness that's not personal; it's anthropological. Kayhan is the master of that instrument. He's taken the kamancheh to places it has never traveled before, musically, emotionally and culturally. The civilization that he represents is very powerful, and he's at the top."

Since moving back to Iran in 2003, Kalhor has been seeking to stitch together generational relationships severed by the 1979 revolution that transformed Iran into an Islamic republic that greatly restricted musical performances.

"There's a young generation of musicians who grew up after the revolution, and the relationship between them and the previous generation hasn't been great," Kalhor says. "All of the old masters left Iran around the revolution in search of better situations and more concerts. I'm very fortunate to be in between that old generation and the new one."

By Andrew Gilbert
- San Jose Mercury News


Discography

Silent City, The Rain, The Wind, Lost Songs of the Silk Road, Through Eternity, Faryad, Without You, As Night Falls on the Silk Road, In the Mirror of the Sky, Night Silence Desert, Scattering Stars Like Dust, Eastern Apertures,

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Bio

KAYHAN KALHOR & BROOKLYN RIDER

Iranian kamancheh (spike fiddle) virtuoso and composer Kayhan Kalhor and members of the string quartet Brooklyn Rider (Johnny Gandelsman, violin, Colin Jacobsen, violin, Nicholas Cords, viola and Eric Jacobsen, cello), first met while participating in Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Project. This collaboration was born of a growing friendship between Kalhor and the quartet. Reinterpreting classical and folkloric sources in a freewheeling, impassioned manner was already second nature for all concerned but, invigorated by shared connections between their respective traditions, the five musicians, found themselves communicating on a fresh and thrilling wavelength. All four works on their “Silent City” recording were composed by the participants. The album opens with the Icarus-like, Zoroastrian imagery of Ascending Bird, a feverish, searing take on a tale ancient beyond recall that remains perpetually relevant. Silent City is a testament to a fallen city; the piece commences with eerily beautiful apparitions of echoing abandoned spaces but ultimately blossoms into a paean of rebirth. Parvaz, another variant of the “soaring bird” image, features a setar (a four-string Iranian lute with movable frets) that, along with the bowed instruments, depicts frantically beating wings striving toward the light. On the final selection, the transcendent romance of Beloved, do not let me be discouraged inspires the participants to reach deep inside as many and one, rising to an ecstatic culmination of shared passion and imagination.

Band Members