Concert review: Homayoun Shajarian, a renowned Persian classical music vocalist, and his Hesar Ensemble back in NY!

Date: February 18th, 2012
Venue: Town Hall New York Citytow

Review by Piruz Partow

Music passed through family can be a very special thing. Like many Persian musical families, Homayoun Shajarian, son of Iran’s most famous vocalist Ostad Mohammad Reza Shajarian, carries with him a fantastic musical tradition and this was evident in his performance with the Hesar Ensemble. Obviously expectations are high when you are the great Shajarian’s son. Homayoun has definitely been under the watchful eyes of his father; performing in his fathers group as a vocalist and zarb player for decades now. Homayoun Sharijan had already had some wonderful performances away from his fathers shadow most notably with Ostad Hamid Motabassam’s Simroq project. So even with high expectations, this performance did not disappoint and in fact assured that this great vocal tradition will be carried on for another generation.

Backing up Homayoun Shajarian was the Hesar Ensemble led by tar player and composer Ali Ghamsari. The evenings performance started off a little frail and uneasy. Understandably this was obviously the first night of the tour for the group. But he extended tuning and awkward looks passed among the musicians during the introduction were all but forgotten as soon as Homayoun started singing. It is obvious he has been singing for all of his short life. His voice carried volume and expression and at points superseded the Hesar group that, once settled, proved to be very dynamic and very musical as well.

Besides Homayoun’s voice (he didn’t play tombek or kemanche-just sang), the performance was highlighted by great arrangements among the instruments in the ensemble. There were fantastic couplings between the tar and the upright bass. The kemanche, played by Negar Kharkan, was featured at times quite tastefully along with Laya Etemadi on viola, the ensemble played Ghamasari’s pieces with spirit and control.  Just when the performance started becoming austere and overly contemplative, the percussionist Hossein Rezaeenia, Homayoun Naisri, and Aeen Meshkatian all three lightened up the program with an extensive drum performance. This was followed by interesting interplay with Ali Ghamsari and the percussionists.

Both Ghamsari’s tar playing and compositions were very well delivered. He really put a lot of effort and thought in the production and his performance. His tar playing was very deliberate and precise. He utilized a very traditional reese with his right hand tar playing and his avaz improvisations were creative and original, while also working within traditional boundaries.

It was obvious that the program was intended to expand the boundaries of classical Persian music and this did not disappoint. There were interesting harmonies among the instruments whose orchestrations made the most out of the eight piece ensemble. Unfortunately there was no written program given to honor the fantastic musicians, but some notable performances were a piece in the dastagh of Dashti using a poem by the great Sa’di. Overall, this was a wonderful performance by an new generation of Classical Persian musicians. It is safe to say that the future of Classical Persian music looks bright and promising if it is anything like this fabulous performance.