Tehran Symphony Orchestra Visits Germany

Classic Arts News   Tehran Symphony Orchestra Visits Germany
The Tehran Symphony Orchestra began a week-long goodwill visit to Germany on Sunday (August 20) with a concert at the Orient Festival in Osnabr‹ck, Germany, reports the Associated Press. The program included Tchaikovsky's Overture to Romeo and Juliet, Beethoven's Seventh Symphony and Frank Zappa's short Dog Breath Variations.

The 80-member orchestra also played contemporary Iranian music, by composer Hassan Riahi and by Nader Mashayekhi, its 48-year-old chief conductor. The AP reports that the orchestra won a standing ovation from the 1,400 listeners in attendance.

Next Saturday (August 26), a smaller version of the orchestra, the Tehran Sinfonietta, will play in Neuhardenberg outside Berlin, and at the Berlin State Opera the following day.

While many orchestras worldwide face financial woes, the Tehran Symphony faces far greater challenges than the average fundraising crisis, according to the AP report. Even a performance of standard repertory such as Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 can attract the ire of the country's Islamist government.

The AP writes that Mashayekhi's predecessor was criticized in the conservative press for giving the first performances of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony since the 1979 revolution that saw fundamentalist clerics rise to power. The work is not popular with Islamists because it was reportedly played by leftist and secular groups during the early days of the revolution.

Western music was officially banned last October by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, writes the AP, but it can still be heard on state-run radio and television. Indeed, Iranian television recorded Sunday's concert in Osnabr‹ck. Musical choices must reflect the county's religious bent, with male singers substituted for women (who all wear headscarves while performing) when appropriate to avoid offending male audiences.

The Tehran Symphony is funded by Iran's Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, according to the AP. Iranian officials point to the orchestra as an example of their country's support of culture and tolerance. Homayoun Hemmati, the cultural counselor at the Iranian embassy in Berlin, told the AP that government officials "believe in moralistic arts, spiritual arts, I mean a kind of art that can improve and develop spiritual values among people."

The Islamic Republic News Agency quoted Iran's Ambassador to Germany, Mohammad-Mehdi Akhoundzadeh, as saying, "The tenets of Islam combined with the original and dynamic civilization and culture of Iran account for the progress of the Iranian people in all fields. However, unfortunately, Iran's culture of peace, friendship and justice-seeking is still unknown to a great part of Western people."

The Tehran Symphony was founded in the 1940s and thrived in the 1960s and early 1970s, during more liberal times. Violinists Yehudi Menuhin and Isaac Stern and conductor Zubin Mehta are among those to have played with the ensemble, according to the AP.

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