When I was first invited to Kayhan Kalhor – Passionate Poems of Rumi I didn’t have the faintest idea I would be reviewing it. Unfortunately due to unforeseen circumstances, Mr Rainlore was unable to attend, so I was asked to kindly write a review on his behalf, much to my dread!
So ahead of the concert I duly started my research into the maestro that is Kayhan Kalhor. Starting with the Barbican profile
and with the review of his latest album I Will Not Stand Alone on Rainlore’s World of Music earlier this year, and listening to various tracks available online.
In the lead-up to the concert we were hearing through various communiqués that first, Kayhan Kalhor’s initially billed ensemble didn’t get visas, then at the very last minute that Turkish baglama maestro and singer Erdal Erzincan didn’t get one either, which meant that leading Iranian tombak player and percussionist Madjid Khaladj would accompany the maestro at very short notice. (At the Edinburgh concert the previous day, Kayhan Kalhor was accompanied by London based tombak player/percussionist Adib Rostami.)
It was hard to believe that this was Kayhan Kalhor’s Barbican debut and after my research I was thoroughly looking forward to this concert. On entering the Barbican Hall and expecting an almost sold out show, I was slightly disappointed to see many empty seats. However after a short introduction the maestro walked onto the stage to a standing ovation. Both musicians sat down on a carpet on the huge stage and after a few moments of tuning, without a word Kayhan Kalhor began playing his kemancheh, a Persian spiked fiddle. This was bowed like a miniature cello, but with the instrument moving side to side almost as much as the bow, with the sound comparing with a violin/viola but softer yet more resonant.
Madjid Khaladj joined in on percussion after some ten minutes of exposition from Kalhor. This continued with
back to back compositions and improvisations played without stopping for any applause, for almost one hour and twenty minutes, where Kalhor would start a piece and Khaladj would join in at various intervals.
This was obviously not the programme that had been publicised, however the musicianship and quality of improvisation from both was undeniable. The instinctiveness and synchronicity between both was breath-taking, Khaladj knowing when to come in and end, playing different rhythmic meters on mainly tombak but also riq and finger cymbals and Kalhor playing improvisation after improvisation, completely immersed and making his kemancheh not only sing but dance from bowing his instrument or at times plucking it. (The free time improvisations by Kalhor strongly reminded me of the alap of Indian classical music.)
Unfortunately, this did not stop a small number of people walking out. Maybe it wasn’t what they were expecting – it certainly was not what I was expecting and without a musician friend who was accompanying me who could explain some of the context to me, many of the intricacies would have been lost on me. Personally, I felt there was something missing and that it would have been good to have another melodic instrument player who could juxtapose to Kalhor’s playing in addition to the percussion. Much of this may have been due to the publicity having led me to expect something different.
At the end both musicians received a standing ovation which went on for a number of minutes after they had walked off the stage. They came back on to do an encore of about ten minutes during which Kayhan Kalhor also sang a song – perhaps a poem of Rumi’s?
I look forward to hearing the maestro again, hopefully next time with his ensemble.
© 2012 Chetna Kapacee. All rights reserved.
Due to an accident the previous week, I was regrettably unable to attend the great Ostad Kayhan Kalhor & Madjid Khaladj Live At The Barbican Centre myself as planned. Therefore first of all a huge vote of thanks to Ms. Chetna Kapacee for agreeing to review this event for Rainlore's World of Music in the first place, and for delivering such a very capable result!
When the event was first announced some two months ago by Swan Promotions, it was billed as Maestro Kayhan Kalhor Ensemble - Passionate Poems of Rumi. Approximately four weeks ahead of the concert, the promoters announced that due to visa issues, Kalhor's ensemble would now not be able to come to perform with the maestro, and that in their place, Turkish baglama maestro and singer Erdal Erzincan would accompany Kalhor. The event was now re-branded Kayhan Kalhor & Erdal Erzincan - Passionate Poems of Rumi. I was assured that the programme would remain (largely) unchanged.
Then, only on the day of the London concert itself it would seem, it was announced, on the Barbican's event page only, that due to visa issues Erzincan would not be able to attend and Kalhor would now be accompanied by leading Iranian tombek player and percussionist Madjid Khalaj - a long time collaborator of Kalhor's. Thus, the event now effectively became Kayhan Kalhor & Madjid Khaladj Live At The Barbican Centre. Not a single mention on Swan's own web site, or on Facebook, which had been used extensively to promote the event.
Had I been a paying concert attendee (and the best and better seats were not exactly cheap, either), expecting to see Kalhor with his ensemble and the originally announced programme, or at the very least with Erzincan, I think I might have been more than a little vexed to find, on the day, that I was to be attending a completely different concert to the one publicised, even as a hardened Kalhor and Iranian music aficionado. Had I been a general member of the audience, I think I might quite understandably have been furious and walked out and demanded a refund of my ticket.
But not only was the personnel completely changed at the last minute, even the performance, originally scheduled to consist of two sets lasting approximately three hours, was reduced to a single set of approximately one and a
half hours. At the end of which, it would appear that at first the audience was not quite sure whether this was the end of the performance or the expected interval.
Then, there was the promotion of the event, or rather, the lack of it. While I have every sympathy for Swan Promotions, who are apparently a completely new organisation, dedicated to the promotion of Iranian music (a very commendable enterprise, much needed in the UK, that has my fullest support), staging their first event with the Kayhan Kalhor concerts in Edinburgh and London, the lack of proper promotion is inexcusable. Staging an event at one of London's three major concert venues calls for a full, well oiled PR machine. If budget was a problem, then it would have been better to opt for a smaller, cheaper venue in the first place, leaving plenty for promotion.
As was, the whole organisational chaos and lack of communication was not fair to concert goers, and it would be an enormous pity if it had lost potential audience for the wonderfully rich Iranian music in general and for Ostad Kayhan Kalhor in particular.
All these swings and roundabouts were also a most inappropriate treatment for an artist of world class and world renown such as Maestro Kayhan Kalhor, to whom apologies are surely due.
Please, Swan Promotions, learn a lesson from this. Or rather, several lessons. Among others, this includes to obtain visas for scheduled performers long ahead of planned performances, even before announcing an event where possible. (Venues such as Barbican Hall cannot normally be hired at short notice, so it should be possible to plan for visas well ahead.) And plan for a sufficient budget for promotion that includes ample press allocations, good press relations, and at least some mainstream press advertising for major events such as this. Keep good communications with your audience at all times, i.e., keep them well informed of any changes.
Attracting only a largely expat audience is not promoting the cause of Iranian music to a general UK audience. This event could have been so much more, and it could have helped a great deal in disabusing the British public of the stereotype image foisted upon them by the mainstream media and instead helped open their eyes - and ears - to the highly sophisticated culture and society that is Iran.