Persian music has been described as introverted and meditative, and Ali Reza Shajarian, who is presenting a concert of "Persian Music and Poetry" at the Performing Arts Center on Saturday, agrees.
"This is music which makes people think," Shajarian said in a phone conversation last week from San Jose, prior to a concert at UC Berkeley. "It has a great deal of spirituality. . . . You have to really, deeply listen to it. But if you let the music take you, it will take you very easily into deep thinking."
Shajarian is managing the tour, which enlists his brother Mohamman Reza Shajarian as composer and vocalist.
The other musicians--all from Iran--include Dariush Pirniakan, who plays the tar and setar ; Jamshid Andalibi, who plays the nay, and Morteza Ayan, the tonbak.
(A tar is a long-necked lute with eight strings; a setar also is a lute, but with four strings. A nay is a wooden flute. A tonbak is a goblet-shaped drum.)
The players will be finishing up their 12-city tour in Costa Mesa. The tour began in July at UCLA and included Seattle, Chicago, New York, Boston, Washington and Philadelphia.
"The purpose of the concert is to introduce the culture of Persia to the American people, and especially to Iranians, since they've been very long away from home," Shajarian said.
But why call it "Persian" rather than Iranian?
"Persian, Iranian--it's the same thing," he said. "Here, they call it Persia. It's Iranian music and poetry."
Despite the official freeze between the two countries, Shajarian said that he and his musicians had no trouble entering the United States.
"They give visas very easily," Shajarian said. "People travel back and forth. There are no problems."
While Shajarian said that he hopes such concerts as his will promote better relations between the United States and Iran, he steadfastly maintained, "I don't know anything about the politics."
Classical music of Persia is a survivor. Ever since the Safavid dynasty (1501-1722), the attitude of Shiite religious leaders towards music has been generally hostile.
They have regarded it as a form of frivolity, as an art form that can lead to impiety. Consequently from the 16th Century to the early 20th, Persian music was frowned upon. It fell into disgrace and declined.
Beginning in this century, however, the Iranian government initiated efforts to preserve and promote its musical culture.
Those who don't understand Farsi may run into one problem at the concert, however. There will be no translations.
"We had a brochure in English at the other concerts," said Shajarian, "but we ran out, and there is no time to print any more. We were not expecting so many people! People have been very grateful for this concert. Americans love this music so much."
"Not at all," he said.