When I first heard Tara Kamangar perform with the Oakland Symphony Orchestra I had a feeling that she would soon be invited back on the same stage. As it turned out, the next time I heard her perform, Kamangar was not a behind a grand piano locked in a precise and passionate embrace with a Rachmaninoff piece; the versatile concert musician was improvising gypsy-jazz with a fiddle tucked under her chin, accompanying the group Kiosk. This March 18, Kamangar will be back on the Oakland Symphony stage, this time the young master has a Beethoven concerto under her piano fingers.
Beethoven’s Triple Concerto for piano, cello and violin is a perfect choice for a Nowruz performance. It is full of cheerful melodies, however it is anything but light in the ordinary sense because, well, it’s Beethoven. The composer does not treat happiness as forgetful gaiety. Much like the Nowruz spirit, there is grandeur, a sense of deep past, and joyful pride in having survived long hardships. Beethoven’s lightness is the transcendent kind we feel just as a heavy burden has been lifted, the memory of the weight still with us, not the pampering kind. We not only feel happy but also are deeply appreciative of this state of mind, consciously commemorating it. In other words Triple Concerto sings “Nowruz.”
Most concertos are single soloist concertos. The “Triple” is unusual in having three soloists accompany the orchestra. Julliard and Curtis-educated musicians Arash Amini and Cyrus Beroukhim are the other two soloists playing the concerto with Kamangar. They are exceptional talents who perform regularly in prestigious venues across the globe. This is another reason why Triple Concerto is a superb choice for Nowruz; it allows three of our first rate classical musicians to showcase their virtuosity in one concert.
Though the melodies sometimes create the urge in the listener to jump out of his seat and do a folk dance, the main challenge of the concerto is not in the technical pyrotechnics. The difficulty is in the three soloists acting as one spirit. Legendary soloists like Richter (piano), Oistrakh (violin) and Rostropovitch (cello) under the direction of Von Karajan struggled in this regard during a famous recording of this concerto because they could not find common ground in interpretation. Kamangar says, “The pianist and conductor did not always get along, and Richter later complained about this recording that Karajan did unforgivable things, and that ‘it was war: Karajan and Rostropovich formed a league against Oistrakh and [Richter].’” But Kamangar quips, “We won’t have any such tension in our concert! We have had a few rehearsals together—Arash and Cyrus are wonderful guys and I immediately felt very comfortable with them as though I had known them for many years.”
As I prepare to attend the concert the thought occurs to me that the three Iranian soloists face a double challenge: on the one hand there is the Western tendency to assert individuality and outshine each other--as with the Von Karajan recording--on the other hand they are confronted with the Iranian tendency to taarof among each other. Whatever the outcome of this cultural fusion, it will be fascinating listening.
Kamangar’s Harvard degree in anthropology puts her in a unique position to be aware of such multi-cultural nuances. I asked her how her studies in anthropology have affected her musical outlook. Her response:
“I think my studies in anthropology and ethnomusicology--studying music in its cultural context--affected my musical outlook a lot. I had encountered some Eurocentric attitudes in the classical music world, and that is part of what attracted me to study anthropology--I wanted to counteract these attitudes. For instance, there is a notion amongst classical musicians that music inspired by folk songs is provincial, as opposed to the truly great "universal" music of Beethoven, Mozart or Schubert. But actually, many melodies of Beethoven, Mozart, and Schubert sound just like German folk songs. Classical composers have always been inspired by folk music, and this has never detracted from the greatness or universality of their compositions. We are so lucky today--it is easier than ever before to study music from every part of the world and every period of time, thanks to the internet--and I think some of the incomplete views I had encountered are on their way out.”
To help remedy some of the “incomplete views” Kamangar makes a point of performing works by Iranian composers including Aminollah Hossein, Behzad Ranjbaran, Loris Tjeknavorian, Hormoz Farhat, and Golnoush Khaleghi, as well as her own compositions. In this mission, she has the support of Oakland Symphony conductor Maestro Michael Morgan, who continues to graciously serve the Iranian San Francisco Bay Area community by brining our best talents to his orchestra. Outside the symphony hall, Kamangar’s colorful musical contribution to Kiosk, has shown that she welcomes music for any occasion -- including composing for film scores. She is even a fan of Googoosh and has collaborated with Mohsen Namjoo in his latest album “Useless Kisses.” Her own album “East of Melancholy: Piano Music from Russia to Iran” is due to be released in June.
This Friday March 18 at the Nowruz concert it will be a delight to listen to a young master who has not only been praised as a “huge talent” by the London Evening Standard, but whose art also carries a mission for the advancement of the Iranian culture.
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