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Boasting a lineup of players drawn from the top echelons of Iranian musical training, the Grammy-nominated Masters of Persian Music will perform new works drawing on the rich heritage of Persian classical music and ancient Sufi and contemporary poetry 8 p.m. today, at the Williams Center for the Arts.

Tickets are free for students, $4 for faculty and staff, and $20 for the public. They can be obtained by calling the box office at 610-330-5009.

Masters of Persian Music members Mohammad Reza Shajarian and Kayhan Kalhor will offer a free lecture-demonstration noon today at the Williams Center.

The evening program features three of the most important figures in classical Persian music: Iran’s great vocalist Shajarian; Kalhor, a virtuoso of the kamancheh spike-fiddle; and Hosseain Alizadeh, a master of the tar, a middle Eastern lute. Shajarian’s son, Homayoun Shajarian, a master in the making, plays the tombak goblet drum and sings.

The tour celebrates the release of the Masters’ third CD, Faryad (World Village), and follows their two previous sold-out North American tours. The group’s hauntingly beautiful recordings have made audiences eager for their rare live performances. The Washington Post reported “three standing ovations, one before they’d performed a note.”

As a quartet, the musicians experiment with new melodic and polyphonic structures previously unheard in the Persian classical repertoire. Another innovation has been the elevation of instrumental music in recent years, something once viewed as mere accompaniment to the voice. Alizadeh and Kalhor especially have contributed to a new respect for instrumental Persian music, composing new works for instruments only.

Hailed as “the Pavarotti of Persian classical music” by The Globe and Mail (Toronto), Shajarian is the undisputed master of Persian classical song, regarded as a national treasure by both musicians and music lovers. His singing is technically flawless, powerful, and strongly emotional. In 1999 UNESCO presented him with the prestigious Picasso Medal in France and in 2000, the Ministry of Culture in Iran declared him “Best Classical Vocalist.”

His career has included teaching at Tehran University’s Department of Fine Arts, working at National Iranian Radio and Television Organization, researching Iranian music, and making countless important recordings. He performs regularly in Iran and throughout the world. Shajarian also has practiced the art of Perisan calligraphy since 1967 and is considered an accomplished calligrapher with his own distinct style.

Kalhor’s music conjures an enchanting world of Sufi trance, mystical longing, and meditative improvisation. He was a child prodigy on the kamancheh and invited at age 13 to join Iranian National Radio and Television Orchestra, where he performed for five years. At 17, Kalhor began working with Shayda Ensemble of Chavosh Cultural Center, the most prestigious arts organization at the time in Iran. While performing with Shayda, he continued studying the Iranian classical repertoire (radif) with different masters. In addition, he spent much time in different regions of Iran, including Khorasan in the northeast and Kurdistan in the west, and absorbed regional repertoires and styles. He studied Western classical music in Rome and at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, where he received a degree in music.

He has performed as a soloist, with ensembles, and with Western classical orchestras around the world, including Orchestre National de Lyon, New York Philharmonic, Cologne Philharmonic, Seattle Symphony, and Chicago Philharmonic. He has performed at The Royal Albert Hall in London, Théâtre de la Ville in Paris, Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center in New York, Concertgebouw in Holland, Schleswig-Holstein in Germany, and Sacred Music Festival in Morocco. In 1991 he co-founded Dastan, the renowned Persian classical music ensemble, and in 1997 he formed the ensemble Ghazal with Shujaat Husain Khan, which performs improvisations based on Persian and Indian music. His commissions include works written for Kronos Quartet and for Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Project, with whom he has been touring since 2001.

Alizadeh has performed extensively throughout the United States, Europe, and Asia, and has appeared on many radio and television programs around the world. He has taught at University of Tehran, Tehran Music Conservatory, and California Institute of the Arts.

After graduating from Tehran Music Conservatory, Alizadeh entered the School of Music of University of Tehran in 1975, where he received his degree in composition and performance. During the same period he studied with various masters of traditional Persian music. He was awarded a position with National Orchestra of Iran and later became the conductor and soloist of Iranian National Radio and Television Orchestra. He founded Aref Ensemble and performed with Shayda Ensemble, both dedicated to the promotion and advancement of Iranian classical music. He participated in the orchestra of the famous Bejart Ballet Company in a performance of Gulistan, a ballet by Maurice Bejart.

In the early 1980s, Alizadeh further expanded his formal education by studying composition and musicology at University of Berlin. In 2000, the Ministry of Culture in Iran declared him the best contemporary artist. As a teacher he has trained many young musicians and has written and published a number of etudes for tar and setar (lute). He has composed many works of contemporary and neo-classical Iranian music as well as several film scores, including Gabbeh and A Time for Drunken Horses. In addition, Alizadeh has recorded the entire body of the radif based on the interpretation of Mirza Abdollah.

The nationally recognized Performance Series at Lafayette attracts more than 10,000 people each season. It has been cited for performing excellence by the National Endowment for the Arts, National Dance Project, Chamber Music America, Lila Wallace Reader’s Digest Fund, Pennsylvania Arts and Humanities Councils, and Association of Performing Arts Presenters.

The 2005–06 Performance Series is supported in part by gifts from Friends of the Williams Center for the Arts; by provisions of the Alan and Wendy Pesky Artist-in-Residence Program, the James Bradley Fund, and the Ed Brunswick Jazz Fund; and by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation, Pennsylvania Performing Arts on Tour, the Dexter and Dorothy Baker Foundation, and New England Foundation for the Arts.

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