The rapturous reception given Iran's traditional music ensemble Homay and the Mastan Group in their debut U.S. performance at Walt Disney Concert Hall on Thursday night was well-deserved, not just for their dazzling innovations on old musical forms, but for the inspiring audacity shown by the group's very formation.
The seven-member ensemble was founded by Parvaz Homay, a young man (still in his 20s) carrying on the Persian tradition of chameh soraei, in which a musician composes, writes his own lyrics and sings. His ensemble comprises handpicked experts on the customary Persian instrumentation, including the four-stringed tar, the reedy, flute-like ney, the upright fiddle called kamanche and the multistringed hammered zither, santoor.
Calling their performance "A Forbidden Journey" -- also the name of the ensemble's latest album -- Homay and his colleagues, inspired by the Sufi poets Rumi and Hafez, aimed to reestablish the old Persian practice of creating music that can make the listener reach a higher level of consciousness. Their nearly three-hour performance at Disney Hall achieved this effect via Homay's heartfelt lyrics and groundbreaking music, which builds on the older folklorical styles with bold new structures, rhythms and melodic schemes.
These 18 pieces were performed in exhilarating style, with each player functioning as both soloist and ensemble member. The pieces generally were worked out in formats that accommodated substantial personal interpretation by the individual players.