Shirangi is a composer and pianist working in both western and Persian music. His acoustic and electronic compositions are performed throughout the Caucuses and Europe. His previous works have been recorded and released in Greece, the UK, and the US.
Abbasi composes music for concert as well as for film and stage. He is a flutist and performs with the Tehran Flute Choir. He is an active presence throughout the Iranian music scene and is a board member of Iran’s Theatre Forum Association.
Teheran-based composers Soheil Shirangi and Shervin Abbasi have released an aptly titled haunting new album, Maelstrom.The two draw on influences from European minimalism and traditional Iranian sounds. It’s a diverse but dark collection of works for solo instruments and small ensembles. In a year of one horror after another – especially in Iran, which was one of the first countries crippled by propaganda and hysteria – this is indelibly an album for our time. Yet the music here also offers considerable hope and even devious humor.
The first work is Trauma, a Shirangi trio composition played by cellists Ella Bokor and Mircea Marian with accordionist Fernando Mihalache. The strings enter with a syncopated, mutedly shamanic drive that quickly rises to an insistent pedal point. The accordion first serves as a wary chordal anchor while the cellos diverge, return with an increasingly stricken intensity, and then wind out with plaintive washes.
Violinist Mykola Havyuk, clarinetist Yaroslav Zhovnirych, and pianist Nataliya Martynova play Abbasi’s The Rebellion, beginning with more hauntingly microtonal austere resonance punctuated by simple, forlorn piano incisions. Eerie, circling chromatics from the piano underscore troubled, anthemic phrases. A couple of vigorous flicks under the lid signal a wounded call-and-response: slowly but resolutely, a revolution flickers and eventually leaps from the desolation. The obvious comparison is the livelier moments in Messiaen’s Quartet For the End of Time.
It’s the most distinctly Iranian piece here. By contrast, To Lose Hope – another Abbasi piece featuring clarinetist Mykola Havyuk and a string quartet comprising violinists Marko Komonko and Petro Titiaiev, violist Ustym Zhuk and cellist Denys Lytvynenke – first takes shape as a hazy cavatina, Havyuk’s crystalline leads balanced by brooding cello and shivery vibrato from the rest of the strings. The jauntiness, acerbity, and suspense that follow are unexpectedly welcome. The point seems to be that hope is where you find it.
Afrooch, an Abbasi solo work played by violinist Farmehr Beyglou, requires daunting extended technique, shifting back and forth between ghostly harmonics, moody atmosphere, insistently hammering riffs, shivery crescendos, and a call-and-response that grows from enigmatic to puckish.
The closing composition, Shirangi’s The Common Motivations, is a solo piano piece, Sahel Abaei’s low murk contrasting with muted inside-the-gestures, expanding with spacious minimalist accents and eventually forlorn, Messiaenic bell tone chords. If this is characteristic of the new music coming out of Iran, the world needs to hear more of it.
“Brilliant, Haunting New Works From Iranian Composers Soheil Shirangi and Shervin Abbasi.”
Q: Can you tell us a little about how this project came to be?
A: For several years, Shervin and I had wanted to create and release an album combining our respective works. We began recording our music for strings but later included works with clarinet, piano, and accordion. We recorded, mixed, and mastered this album at Saba Studio in Tehran over many months.
Q: What is the concert music scene like in Tehran?
A: There is a thriving scene of new concert music here, including an increasing number of festivals dedicated to new music. One of Tehran’s most important concert halls is Vahdat Hall, which is terrific for symphonic music. Several smaller venues present new concert music, including Roudaki Hall. However, there’s much more to be done to increase the visibility to the public.
Q: Tell us about a place in the world that has impacted your work.
A: I think this is an essential question for every artist. I can name several places I like to visit, but one place I really like is Isfahan (a city four-hour drive south of Tehran renowned for its historical buildings, monuments, paintings, and artifacts). It’s a beautiful and immense place. I like going there during the day and evening to wander around and think about ideas.