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The Melal Ensemble Concert
By Marzieh Vafamehr
January 2007
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If the assumption is that any powerful form of collective thinking today must revolve around the concept of Global Village, theoretically based on a shared language and the imperatives of the market regardless of ethnicity, race, and nationality; if the presupposition is that in the post-industrial part of the world, globalization will lead us to a world void of violence and inequality, and this can only happen if we go beyond geographic demarcations that have reified after years of human development; if the assumption is that speaking of "mother country," "birthplace," "nation," or nativity is moot; those whose hearts do not beat to a name such as "Iran," readily accept the call for globalization. But one must also realize that given the limited resources of the earth, joining the globalization movement without knowing the consequences that it entails can only bring dissociations and pain.

Nationalism is not dead. True, its definition is no longer taken for granted. We are told that with the spread and speed of telecommunication, Nation-States are no longer holding together; nation-states being at the heart of nationalistic movements of the past. Take the country of Iran, where nationalism is evoked when it comes to getting people to show up at the ballots and vote for parliamentary or presidency candidates, but the name of "Iran" is seldom used in our National Television and Radio (instead, Iran is refer to as "Our Country" or "Our Beloved Country"). This is at a time when the Gulf Countries are trying to erase the name of Persia from the geographic map of the world. Another words, nationalism is still evoked but the concept refers to nothing in particular except nostalgia for something long lost.

This introduction was necessary to talk about the MELAL Ensemble Concert at the Ministry of Interior Hall.

Born in 1970, composer {Peyman Soltani} has tried for years to form a musical group, which he originally wanted to call "The Ensemble of Takht-e Jamshid (Persepolis) Nations," but which he ultimately had to do so under the name of "The Melal (Nations) Ensemble." The ensemble performed for three days, from 6 to 8 December of last year (2006), with the support of a private organization (Angizeh Sazan-e Faravari). This article intends to highlight the significance of this performance in terms of the nationalistic spirit it evoked and nostalgia for the national movements of half a century ago.

The piece that started the concert was called the "Songs of the Delphi Temple," which is the oldest recorded song of Greece, going back to the second century BC. The original score was in Greek alphabet etched on stonewalls of the treasury of the city of Delphi. In the concert brochure we read that the Melal performance of this piece was possibly the first such undertaking. Other compositions of the first half of the concert were as follows:

[::] Waltz No. 2, composed by {Dmitry Shostakovich} and arranged by {Navid Fashami}
[::] "Poeta" by {Vincente Amigo} and {Leo Brouwer}, arranged by {Keyvan Mirhadi} and accompanied by the guitar of {Bahram Aqajan} and the voices of {Elnaz Sadri}, {Sada Masa'eli}, and {Mehrdad Alizadeh}
[::] "Shalil" (based on the music of Bakhtiyari Tribes), composed by {Kambiz Roshanravan} and accompanied by the kamancheh of {Farshad Saremi}
[::] "The Oil Symphony" of {Ali Naqi Vaziri}, arranged by {Siyavash Beyzai} and accompanied by the tar of {Keyvan Saket}.

The virtuoso tar player, Keyvan Saket, brought confusion to The Oil Symphony as he seldom paid attention to the conductor. This symphony was first written by the late Vaziri in 1949, during the Oil Nationalization Movement -- a reminder of the spirit of the time, when the whole country was wrenching its rights from the hands of the British and which ended with the overthrow of the nationalist prime minister of the country, {Mohammad Mosadeq} -- but was never performed in a concert, nor did a recording of a performance intended for television in 1958 ever air after the Islamic Revolution.

Piece performed after the break:

[::] "Meidansalar," or "field conductor" (based on a native song of the city of Bushehr on the Persian Gulf)
[::] Section of the soundtrack of Red and the album Requiem for My Friend by {Zbigniew Preisner}, arranged by {Hamed Haqiqi}
[::] "The Ichmiadzin Dance", arranged by {Ziaoddin Nazempour} accompanied by a solo performance of tonbak
[::] "Az khun-e javanan-e vatan," or "From the Blood of Our Youth…" a poem by {Aref Qazvini}, arranged by {Mehrdad Delnavaz}, with Bahman Rajabi on tonbak and the voices of {Salar Aqili} and {Sina Sarlak}
[::] "Bulbul-lar okhur," or "Nightingales Sing," based on an Azari song, arranged by Siyavash Beyzai, accompanied by the voices of {Rahim Shahriyari}, {Fariba Asadi}, {Fattaneh Behruzinia}, {Zima Nozad}
[::] "The First Iranian National Anthem" composed by {Jean Baptist Lemarre}, arranged by Siyavash Beyzai on a poem of {Bijan Taraqqi}, sang by Salar Aqili.

And a few comments on the pieces performed after the break. First, mention should be made of the tonbak performance of Master Bahman Rajabi after years of silence. His dexterous fingers created magical sounds, although one could see that old age and difficult years had taken their toll. Second, the significant of a performance that addressed issues of identity and the ancient ethnicities of Iran and the diversity of cultural influences this land has been witness to. And third was the performance of "The First Iranian National Anthem" of Jean Baptist Lemarre, who brought western music theory and notation to Iran. Lemarre was teaching western music theory in Iran in the late 19th century. He performed "The First Iranian National Anthem" only once before the Qajar king, Naser od-Din Shah, who was on a royal visit to Paris. At the Melal Concert, with the powerful voice of young singer Salar Aqili, the piece exuded a new sense of nationalism, and it is a pity that such a performance cannot be repeated in our national radio and television for everyone to see and hear.

I must also mention that the set design for this concert was so poor that it affected the event. The replica of Persepolis on stage was so disproportionate to the set that it provoked laughter more than anything else. The organizers seemed ignorant of this fact, not realizing how important set design can be. The lighting was also not so well thought-out. Finally, the huge orchestra was made to sit through all the pieces, waiting for their turn, and looking out of place during solo performances.

I can only hope for better performances for the Melal Ensemble in the future.