Composer calls concertgoers’ warm welcome for “Untold” “a phenomenon”

September 16, 2016 - 18:59
By Seyyed Mostafa Mousavi Sabet

Hafez Nazeri, the composer of the acclaimed album “Untold” released by Sony Classical in 2014, has called the warm reception for his tour of Iran “a phenomenon.”  

By Seyyed Mostafa Mousavi Sabet

TEHRAN -- Hafez Nazeri, the composer of the acclaimed album “Untold” released by Sony Classical in 2014, has called the warm reception for his tour of Iran “a phenomenon.”  

Speaking to the Tehran Times in a recent interview, he said that so far, over 130,000 tickets have been sold for the “Untold” concerts during the third round of his Iranian tour. Over 50,000 people have already attended his open-air performances at the foot of Milad Tower in Tehran.

“Nowadays, during this period of recession in Iran, while many concerts in pop and traditional music offer tickets with high discount in order to fill the seats for only two nights, the tremendous reception for a heavy classical performance like ‘Untold’ is a phenomenon,” he stated.

“This issue should be scrutinized sociologically to ascertain what factors have caused the phenomenon to occur,” he added.

He said that the most important point is that most people who attend the “Untold” concerts are from the younger generation, which deems him as their own voice in Iranian society.

Iconic Persian vocalist Shahram Nazeri (L) and his son, Hafez, perform the “Untold” tour concert at the foot of Milad Tower in Tehran on August 12, 2016. (Mehr/Babak Borzuyeh)

Untold” fought a long way to reach the top in the music world in 2014. The idea to record the collection at Sony Classical came up in November 2009 when an agent of the company saw a powerful performance by Hafez and his father, Shahram Nazeri, an iconic Persian vocalist, at New York City’s Carnegie Hall. 

The concert was the first Iranian event organized at the prestigious venue. It featured pieces from the Rumi Symphony Project. “Untold” later became the first episode of the project that was initiated by Hafez to commemorate Persian mystic and poet, Molana Jalal ad-Din Rumi.  

“The agent saw how the performance could attract Western concertgoers’ attention, therefore Sony Classical decided to work out a deal for the album, which became the first collection in the history of Middle-Eastern music recorded by Sony Classical,” Hafez said.  

“I deemed it a national work so I decided to create the most powerful and incredible work I could,” he added.

He gathered a lineup of 38 world A-list musicians and engineers, many of whom were winners of the prestigious Grammy Award. Among them were 14-time Grammy Award winning recording producer David Frost, 9-time Grammy Award winning recording engineer Tom Lazarus and 3-time Grammy Award winning mastering engineer Greg Calbi.  

“Due to the creativity the composition has, all these great musicians and experts agreed to opt in on the project,” Hafez said.  

The team spend 5000 hours over about five years in four countries creating the album, he added.

“Untold” was finally born on March 11, 2014 and shortly afterwards, Hafez who lived in New York City decided to return to introduce the collection in his homeland, where it met with a cool reception from fellow musicians.

“All our explanations about the work received a negative response from those who were claiming that all the facts about the album were pure fiction,” he said.

To prove himself, Hafez decided to invite all the great musicians who collaborated on the album to visit Iran for some concerts, which were called off after the musicians failed to get a visa for the country just a week before the performances.        

He made a new attempt and set a new schedule, but again all his efforts were in vain after the authorities refused to grant visas for the musicians.  

“We paid large sums of money as compensation for losses and I felt a lot of shame concerning the musicians,” he stated.

The obstacles put Hafez on the verge of a decision to leave Iran forever. However, a suggestion from a contact brought Hafez a change of heart. The idea was that Hafez should hold the “Untold” concert with his fellow musicians. 

He nodded in agreement and assembled a group of handpicked musicians. Extensive rehearsals were arranged so the musicians would reach concert standards. 

The outcome of all this effort is the “Untold” concerts, which are currently mesmerizing audiences across the country. 

The ensemble has been expanded in comparison with the group that worked on the original album. It has three women singing soprano beside the tenors Hafez and the legendary vocalist, Shahram Nazeri.

“Since I really believe in the powers and abilities of women in a country like Iran, the women were symbolically picked to perform with the ensemble. The result is really interesting; three operatic voices beside two voices of Iranian vocal music,” Hafez said.

Hafez Nazeri accepts a bouquet of flowers from one of his fans (not seen) after a performance of his “Untold” tour concert at the foot of Milad Tower in Tehran on August 4, 2016. (IRNA/Marzieh Soleimani)

“One of the points of anticipation about the ‘Untold’ concerts is that the audiences experience a fusion of four musical cultures in a single night’s performance: Iran’s national music beside traditional Iranian music and Western classical music and one of its branches, operatic vocals… this shows we all are one… Dividing the community of humankind based on religion and nationality is vacuous, because, we all are human and eventually, we shall unite. If two musical cultures that seem unrelated to each other are blended in the proper context, you can see that they have been created for each other,” he explained.

Due to objections from certain people in Mashhad, the capital of Khorsan Razavi Province in northeast Iran, the ensemble was forced to cancel its performances in Neyshabur in the province, which is home to renowned poet Omar Khayyam and mystic Attar. The group also previously called off its concerts in Neyshabour and Tabriz for similar objections to musical performances.

Concertgoers flock to the foot of Milad Tower in Tehran to watch a performance of the “Untold” tour concert.

However, many music enthusiasts from the cities traveled to see the concerts in other cities, Hafez said. 

Meanwhile, he had previously performed without difficulties at Disney Hall in Los Angeles, Royal Albert Hall in London and several other major venues around the world.

“My eyes fill with tears when I see people and families travel hundreds kilometers from across the country to attend our concerts only because they are not allowed to have concerts in their own cities,” he stated. 

Hafez said the people’s enthusiasm for music convinces him to overcome all difficulties existing in the way of organizing concerts in Iran.  

“Untold” received widespread international acclaim. Twice in 2014, the collection hit number one on Billboard’s Classical chart. This was the first time a recording by an Iranian musician has reached the top of the chart.

The Indian-American holistic health guru Deepak Chopra wrote, “Absolutely exquisite music of the highest caliber that speaks to the soul; music that will live for a long, long time… Hafez has done an extraordinary job bringing his spiritual intelligence, the longing that we find in the poems of Rumi and the modern understanding of cosmology and evolution. He’s brought it all together into a single symphonic orchestra composition.”

Gena Somra of CNN commented, “Following in his father’s footsteps, he brings not only the essence of Persian culture -- but also Rumi’s message to an even wider audience than ever before.” 

In an article published by Wondering Sound, Richard Gehr who is an editor for Rolling Stone wrote, “Hafez Nazeri bridges cultures and galaxies on ‘Untold’.”

Hafez is currently working on the second episode of the Rumi Symphony Project.

Photo: Hafez Nazeri acknowledges the audience after a performance of his “Untold” tour concert at the foot of Milad Tower in Tehran on August 4, 2016. (IRNA/Marzieh Soleimani)


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