Bahman Panahi: Live last night

bahman panahi

Live Last Night

By Mark Jenkins

Iranian musician Bahman Panahi is pursuing a doctorate at the Sorbonne, so it's fitting that his concert Friday evening at the Freer Gallery was instructive. He demonstrated the different tones and moods of the tar and the setar, the long-necked lutes central to West Asian music. He also offered a lesson on improvisation.

(Awed gasps, graceful glides and sensuously bent strings, after the jump.)

Like its North Indian cousin, Iranian classical music is improvised from basic modes ("dastgah'' in Persian). The audience's response is essential, Panahi explained. "This is not me. It is you who play,'' he said with a smile. "Please try to play well.''

Audibly, the listeners's contribution was limited to awed gasps at graceful glides, sensuously bent strings, and cascades of notes. Accompanied by Ali Mojallal on tombok, a goblet-shaped drum, Panahi played two 25-minute pieces. The first featured a finger-plucked setar, which seemed too small for the burly musician, and had a gentler tone; at times, he simply strummed the tiny instrument and sang. After a tombok solo, Panahi performed the second improvisation on tar, which has a sharper tone and more sustain, and is played with a plectrum.

Unlike Indian ragas, which generally build from hushed opening to a frenetic climax, the two pieces were episodic in form and stately in rhythm. The music alternately warmed and cooled, was ceded briefly to Mojallal alone and then cantered in another direction. Panahi's doctoral thesis is about the relationship between Persian music and calligraphy, and Friday's concert could have been read as a series of odes rather than as a narrative.

By David Malitz |  October 31, 2009; 11:58 AM ET Live Last Night
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