The following is a review of the Oakland East Bay Symphony, March 17, 2008.
East Bay Symphony celebrates Persian New Year
San Francisco Chronicle
Monday, March 17, 2008
Michael Morgan and the Oakland East Bay Symphony threw an early New Year's party at the Paramount Theatre Friday night. It featured plenty of music and was blessedly free of the maudlin strains of "Auld Lang Syne."
That's because the occasion was Persian New Year, which is actually due on Wednesday. But Morgan and a fine pair of soloists decided there was no pressing reason to delay the festivities.
Friday's longish program, titled "Notes From Persia," was evenly divided between traditional European repertoire - works by Rachmaninoff and Richard Strauss occupied the first half - and music drawing either directly or indirectly on Iranian themes. If the latter works generally sounded less polished or rewarding than those of the established masters, they still had the benefit of novelty.
And at least one selection from the second half, a collection of Persian folk songs orchestrated by Bay Area composer David Garner, turned out to be a heady and touching revelation. The songs were assembled by Raeeka Shehabi-Yaghmai, a local mezzo-soprano whom Morgan heard singing them at an orchestra Christmas party. She delivered them with a fetching combination of tenderness and vigor.
They ranged from the alluring simplicity of "Sarzamineh man" ("My Homeland"), a limpid melody with harp accompaniment, to the vivacious rhythmic lilt of "Shekare Ahoo" ("Deer Hunt"). For "She Godar" ("Three Mountain Passes"), Shehabi-Yaghmai's singing twined in lively counterpoint with the violin lines of concertmaster Dawn Harms, while a percussion section featuring Iranian instruments kept time.
These songs are part of an ongoing project by Shehabi-Yaghmai and Garner to translate many Iranian folk melodies into concert form, the same kind of ethnomusicological project that composers have been undertaking for a century or more. It will be interesting to hear what other jewels emerge from their efforts...