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Iranians praise rare Western concert

September 01, 2007|Nasser Karimi | Associated Press

TEHRAN -- The female musicians wore head scarves, but that didn't hinder them in playing Beethoven and Brahms in a rare performance by a Western classical orchestra in the capital of the Islamic Republic.

The Osnabrück Symphony Orchestra, a 60-member ensemble from Germany, performed Wednesday and Thursday in front of hundreds of enthusiastic Iranians who rarely get the chance to hear live Western music.

"It was wonderful," said Sharokh Pourmaymin, a young musician who attended Thursday's performance. "I wish it could be repeated with other kinds of music, such as jazz, blues and rock."

Sara Shekarabi, a 23-year-old music student, was equally pleased.

"It was a great opportunity for me and my classmates to see and learn from a real concert by a real orchestra," she said of the program of Beethoven's "Leonore" Overture No. 3, Elgar's cello concerto and Brahms' Fourth Symphony.

Western musical performances in Iran have been rare since the 1979 Islamic revolution, when the country's clerics outlawed all pre-revolutionary music.

Music gradually made a comeback in Iran in the 1990s under the reformist President Mohammad Khatami. But when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad replaced him in 2005, the new hard-line president banned state radio and television from playing Western music.

The ban has not been universally followed, but live Western concerts have largely been absent under Ahmadinejad's rule, a reality bemoaned by many audience members.

"I wish [the performance] could be continued more nights, over and over," Zahra Pazouki said. "Only two nights of performance is too little after years of deprivation."

The concerts were part of an exchange that saw the Tehran Symphony Orchestra perform last year to a packed hall in Osnabrück. As required in Iran, the female German musicians wore head scarves while playing.

Nader Mashayekhi, conductor of the Tehran Symphony Orchestra, said the concerts were such a success that he planned to host a similar event in 2008.

"It was also a good opportunity for our young players," Mashayekhi said. "They need a role model to learn how to play."

The concerts received little coverage in the Iranian press, partly because of a three-day holiday in which newspapers were not published.

Soroush Kharabi, a music lover who traveled nearly 200 miles to see Thursday's performance in Tehran, criticized the media for not focusing on the event.

"It seemed the concert has not been happened at all," Kharabi said. "Nobody reported about it."

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