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Behzad Ranjbaran's Exclusive Interview with Salam Toronto: Bridging the Gap Between East and West through Music


By Azim Ahmed, Salam Toronto


Behzad Ranjbaran grew up as a music lover and has gone to become a renowned composer, including the Shahnamah-inspired Persian Trilogy.


This summer, audiences will get a chance to go back and experience classical Iranian culture and music from several centuries ago brilliantly fused together with both classical and modern western sounds. The Shahnamah Millennium Concert and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra come together for a unique multimedia performance on August 2nd, 2008, performing legendary Persian composer Behzad Ranjbaran's Shahnamah-inspired Persian Trilogy.  


The concert is part of the Seventh Biennial Conference on Iranian Studies, which is presented by the Toronto Initiative for Iranian Studies and the International Society for Iranian Studies. In addition to the one-of-a-kind concert, the Conference also includes a Film festival under the theme of 'Redefining the Self', covering a wide range of topics such as gender roles, violence and the resistance to it, as well as the influence of cosmetic surgery in Iran.


Ranjbaran's concert, however, is the major highlight of the event. It brings to stage the prominent Iranian storyteller Morshed Valiollah Torabi, renowned conductor JoAnn Falletta, and the Toronto Symphony.


While parts of the Trilogy have been performed throughout North America before, most recently with the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra two months ago and with the Buffalo Philharmonic last year, this will be the first time it is presented in full. Its composer, for one, is excited.


"This Toronto performance is special though because all three are performed together and it is for a great occasion," Behzad Ranjbaran told Salam Toronto in a special one-on-one interview. "It is a fusion of innovation and tradition, bringing centuries-old tradition of narration from coffeehouses into the stage hall of Roy Thomson Hall, along with the Toronto Symphony. It is for a very noble celebration. It cannot get more cutting-edge fusion than this."


For Ranjbaran, it has been a thrilling journey here. He grew up in Iran, embracing the world of music at an early age. By age nine he was playing the violin and enrolled at the renowned Tehran Music Conservatory, where he was trained in western classical music, serving the impetus for much of his style today. After graduating, he came to the United States in 1974 barely an adult, and enrolled at Indiana University. From there, he attended the prestigious Julliard School of Music in New York City, where he received his Doctorate. He is currently a member of the faculty at Julliard, dividing his time between teaching and composing new music.


Throughout it all, music has been a constant in his life.


"To me, music speaks to the heart in a way that is very powerful," the composer says. "Writing music for me is a self-journey, and I like to share that with others. What I love and enjoy I try to share with others. It is a communicative art that you write for others to enjoy."


The Persian Trilogy is truly reflective of Ranjbaran's passion for sharing his joy with others. Commemorating the millennium of Shahnamah, it was completed in 1010 A.D and is widely considered a masterpiece of classical Persian poetry and cosmopolitanism. Ranjbaran's Trilogy is also available on CD, recorded by the London Symphony Orchestra and also conducted by Falletta.


Torabi's recitation of the Shahnamah is strategically placed in intervals between the organically-related symphonic segments of the Persian Trilogy, composed by Ranjbaran.


Behzad Ranjbaran (right), composed the Persian Trilogy and is an acclaimed musician at the Juillard School of Music in New York City. Dr. Mohamad Tavakoli-Targhi (left) is the Program Chair for the Iranian Biennal Conference and is also a Professor of History and Near & Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Toronto.


Program chair Mohamad Tavakoli-Targhi, says: "By fusing Morshid Torabi's recitation of the Shahnamah with a Toronto Symphony orchestral performance conducted by Maestro JoAnn Falletta, this event will bring into full harmony aspects of the Persian performing arts that have never before shared the same stage."


When Salam Toronto asked him why he wasn't conducting the piece himself, Ranjbaran modestly replied; "JoAnn Falletta is one of the best conductor's I know and she can do a better job than me. I have conducted some of my works but there are so many great conductors available that I just focus on creating the music!"


Much of this work is rooted in the composer's own personal experiences growing up in Iran. The third part of the trilogy is based on the provocative story of the legendary bird, Symorgh. Ranjbaran grew up near the mountains where Symorgh once lived, according to legend. As a boy, he believed the bird still lived there, and every day at sunset would go on his roof and search the summit of the mountain, hoping to see Symorgh.


"I grew up with these stories, that are so strong and so powerful," Ranjbaran says. "I'm very honoured that this opportunity came along, and that all three works would be performed in Toronto along with a narrator and a multimedia production. "This brings many Persian elements into one concert hall."




Certainly, the combination of classical Iranian poetry and storytelling with modern symphonic music by the Toronto Symphony orchestra and multimedia presentation makes for an enticing presentation.


"Every conductor that has heard about this concert was in awe and at some point they wanted to perform this," Ranjbaran says. "At this point in time, the multiculturalism is in the air, and this is a great example of that multiculturalism. You have the Toronto Symphony, a narrator from Iran, and a 500-year old Persian miniature displayed on the screen. You cannot get more multi-disciplinary, multimedia, and multicultural than this."


Behzad Ranjbaran's excitement for this concert belies his love and passion for music. As this highly-anticipated concert nears, music lovers will no doubt share his enthusiasm.


"Music is a spiritual language, all cultures - whatever they believe in - communicate to higher spirits through music. It has a spiritual quality that is very unique."


Unique is undoubtedly a word that also comes to mind when thinking of the Shahnamah Millennium Concert.

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