First Published: 2017-04-20

French conductor leads Tehran orchestra in sign of growing ties
Cultural links between Iran, Europe remain sensitive but are slowly developing after efforts to rebuild ties triggered flood of tourists, trade delegations.
Middle East Online

Iranian-French conductor Pejman Memarzadeh leads Tehran Symphony Orchestra at Vahdat Hall, Tehran

TEHRAN - Growing cultural ties between Iran and Europe were on display on Wednesday night as a French-Iranian conductor became one of the first Westerners to lead the Tehran Symphony Orchestra since the revolution.

Iran's efforts to rebuild ties with the West -- most notably through a nuclear deal with world powers -- have triggered a flood of tourists and trade delegations into the country.

Cultural links are more sensitive but are slowly developing, and Wednesday night's performance of two pieces by Gabriel Faure were thought to be the first time the Tehran orchestra's choir has sung in French.

It marks another step in conductor Pejman Memarzadeh's efforts to connect his Iranian birthplace and adopted home in France.

"I've always been very interested in trying to bring these two civilisations, these two great countries, closer together," the 44-year-old told AFP.

He was speaking ahead of the concert in the 750-seat Vahdat Hall, one of the best-equipped opera houses when it opened during the time of the shah in the 1960s, with only a slightly faded grandeur today.

The orchestra itself is celebrating its 80th anniversary, having lived through some dark days, particularly just after the 1979 revolution when much music -- particularly Western -- was banned.

Neglected for many years, the orchestra has seen a revival under moderate President Hassan Rouhani, and while Western pop music is still frowned upon by Iran's conservative authorities, the classics are once again widely taught and practised.

- 'Very much alive' -

Memarzadeh, who left Iran as a young boy in the 1970s and founded the Orchestre de l'Alliance in France in the 1990s, said part of his mission was to draw attention to Iran's overlooked classical music heritage.

"Iran is a very ancient civilisation with a high level of traditional music in its roots, but people are probably less aware that like other highly cultured countries... classical music has been practised here for a long time," he said.

"There have been great artists, great conductors, great composers. The practice of classical musical is very much alive in Iran."

Shardad Rohani, musical director of the Tehran Symphony Orchestra, said one of Iran's great advantages was the continuing interest of young people in classical music.

"The average age of the orchestra is 25, and I'd say 80 percent of the audiences are young followers. In Europe, it's the opposite," Rohani told AFP.

The talent is homegrown, with many studying at the conservatory across the road.

"One positive thing about the Tehran Symphony Orchestra is they're all Iranians. They all studied here... and that shows that classical music is alive and well," he said.

This is not Memarzadeh's first musical foray in Iran.

In 2002, he led the first performance by a Western orchestra in Iran since the revolution, and last year returned to perform at historic sites including the ancient ruins at Persepolis.

The nuclear deal signed with world powers in 2015 "has helped rebuild trust," he said.

"Artistic, cultural and educational projects are very important because they help remind us of what unites us and what will help us build a better and more constructive future," he said.

 

Iraqi Kurds may postpone referendum in return for concessions

Assad says no Syria ties for countries backing rebels

Rouhani says top priority is protecting nuclear deal from US

Iraqi-Arab Gulf rapprochement makes headway

In Egypt, Syrian refugees recreate Syria

In African tour, Sisi seeks to rebuild ties, address security and water concerns

Syria’s transition scenarios for future rounds of talks

Dubai real estate market sets the pace for renewed growth in the GCC

German-Turkish intellectual held at Ankara’s request

Jordan’s municipal elections marred by deaths, riots

Russia doubts IS claim of stabbing attack in northern city

Turkey slams 'arrogant' German reaction to Erdogan poll call

Police confirm Finland 'terror attack'

Spain hunts suspects as IS claims attack

Aid project helps Syria refugees feel at home in Jordan

Lebanese army launches anti-IS offensive on Syria border

UN demands access to Yemen ports

Low-cost attacks a new reality for Europeans

Forces of Libya's Haftar say commander wanted by ICC in detention

Yemen rebels urged to free political commentator

Iranian footballer breaks silence over ban for playing Israelis

Erdogan meddles in German politics

IS fighters almost encircled in Syrian desert

For Israel, White House ties trump neo-Nazis and antisemitism

Israel freezes implementation of settlement law

Saudi Arabia installing cranes at Yemen ports

13 dead, 100 injured in two Spanish seaside city attacks

Iran reform leader ends hunger strike

Van ploughs through pedestrians in Barcelona terror attack

13 killed in Barcelona van attack

Iraq acknowledges abuses in Mosul campaign

Netanyahu under fire for response to US neo-Nazism

Israel to free high-profile suspects in money laundering probe

Spanish police shut down jet-ski migrant smugglers

Syrian actress, activist Fadwa Suleiman dies in Paris

Israeli court extends detention for Islamic cleric over ‘incitement’

UAE to provide $15 million a month to Gaza

Sudan's Bashir 'satisfied' with Nile dam project

US-backed rebels say American presence in Syria to last ‘decades’

Tunisian clerics oppose equal inheritance rights for women

Israel strikes almost 100 Hezbollah arms convoys in 5 years

UN hopes for eighth round of Syria talks before year’s end

LONG READ: How Syria continues to evade chemical weapons justice

Civilians killed in US-led raids on Raqa

Qatari pilgrims begin flooding into Saudi by land