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Iranian composer takes Rumi's poetry to new heights

August 16, 2007|Don Heckman

The words "Rumi" and "Disney" may not seem to belong in the same sentence -- or even the same location. But they'll be together Friday night, when Iranian composer Hafez Nazeri presents the world premiere of his Rumi Symphony Project at Disney Hall, celebrating the 800th birthday of the Persian poet and mystic.

Nazeri is the son of vocalist Shahram Nazeri, an icon of Persian music -- described as the "Persian Nightingale" and "Iran's Pavarotti." The elder Nazeri will be featured in the Rumi Project.

"My father was the first Iranian singer to set Rumi's poetry to music, 35 years ago," Nazeri says. "And I grew up studying, learning so many things about Rumi's life.

"We consider Rumi not just a poet, but a philosopher. And what we wanted to do, especially since he has become so popular in the West, is show his reality in our music. You know, in one of his poems, Rumi says, 'I'm not a poet. Poems are just an excuse for me to say what I want to say. Go beyond my poetry.' "

Nazeri's composition for a seven-piece ensemble combines Western instrumentation (violas and cellos) with Iranian setar daf and Indian percussion.

"We've tried to portray Rumi's philosophy of life, the message of love, the message of peace," Nazeri says. "And that's my challenge, especially when the media is full of war and fighting. Here I am, a 28-year-old Iranian guy, coming to Disney Hall with a music that tries to bridge West and East, that tries to be the sound of the billions of people who are calling for peace, not war. I like to think that's something Rumi would have understood."

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"In the Path of Rumi," Disney Hall, 111 S. Grand Ave., L.A. 8 p.m. Friday. $35 to $150. (323) 850-2000.

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