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Persian Rhapsodies

by Robert Abrams
March 3, 2004
Center for Jewish History
15 West 16th Street
New York, NY 10011
(917) 661-4041

Persian Rhapsodies

presented at
The Center for Jewish History
15 West 16 Street
New York, NY

Robert Abrams
March 3, 2004

Tania Eshaghoff and her ensemble performed a concert at the Center for Jewish History as part of a celebration of The Jews of Iran. The concert was preceded by a slide presentation by Houman Sarshar. Mr. Sarshar managed to fit 2700 years of Iranian Jewish History into 40 minutes. It was a most vivid introduction. Many of the slides were drawn from his recent book "Esther's Children: A Portrait of Iranian Jews".


Tania Eshaghoff and ensemble
Photo by Simona Aru

Ms. Eshaghoff's music, including her first piece "Chain of Events", is characterized by cresting waves of sound. The arrangements are artfully layered. Her work is forceful, yet delicate, like branches swaying in a strong wind.

Chaharghah, by Javaad Maroufi, was plaintive and assertive by turns. The music alternated between melodic and percussive dominance. There were sections where the instruments seemed rhythmically out of alignment, yet these sections were most refreshing. I can't quite explain why. My fuzzy hypothesis is that music can be a three dimensional object that is projected on the audience member as a two dimensional plane. My hunch is that if one were to rotate the music upward, so to speak, what appears initially as a disconnected structure would be revealed to be a fully formed structure.

The other possibility is that the rhythms are complex enough that one would need to diagram the sound visually in order to do a proper analysis.

Many of Ms. Eshaghoff's works have a similar sound. The composition and performance has a consistently high quality such that unless the musicians stop and announce the next number, you can easily get lost in the music and assume that you are hearing a single larger work. Her music often has a soaring quality that I find very appealing. The excellent acoustics at the Center for Jewish History enhanced this soaring quality. Several of the numbers are majestic tours de force.

While listening to one of these works (I am reasonably certain it was Esfahan), I could imagine that the music could be playing in the background during a climactic scene of a film. There was a small child walking towards the music using the handrail to create a counterpoint of patterned movement like a naturally emergent modern dance.

The final work, 21 Seconds (Bam, Iran), a work composed in response to an earthquake in Iran that leveled an ancient town and killed about 41,000 people in the process in 21 seconds, began with a discordant, almost atonal passage. The sound was unlike any of Ms. Eshaghoff's music I have heard before. In this regard I liked it because I thought it showed her growing range as a composer. I also liked it because it made me feel uncomfortable, which is exactly what a composition about a devastating earthquake ought to do. The music then returned to something more like the sound found in her other works. The energy built up over an extended period of time, followed by three punctuated echoes separated by quiet moments.

Having lived through a major earthquake myself (October 1989 in Northern California), I can state with some authority that there is simply no way to accurately represent what the event feels like, either in prose or in verse. I think that Ms. Eshaghoff has done as well as anyone can to represent such an event: the initial energetic time that rends the earth and one's assumptions, the aftershocks, and the rebuilding of people's lives. I also think that 21 Seconds stands on its own as a composition.

Taken as a whole, the concert was an outpouring of compassion and art. I strongly suspect that the audience left the event with their lives a little sweeter than when they came in. And that doesn't include the honey soaked desserts served at the reception afterwards.

The ensemble was composed of Edward Smaldone, musical director and bass, Ali Bello, violin, Skye Steele, violin, Chris Hoffmann, cello, Danny Mellon, hand percussion and tombak, and Swiss Chriss, percussion. The works presented but not mentioned above included Triumph, Tribute - Sept 11, Memories Kindled and Blue as the Turquiose Night of Neyshabur by Kayhan Kalhor, Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble. All of the works were composed by Tania Eshaghoff unless otherwise noted.

For more on Tania Eshaghoff, visit www.taniaproductions.com.

For more on the Center for Jewish History, visit www.cjh.org

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