Pirayeh Pourafar is a celebrated Persian artist and composer and is Co-Founder of the Lian Ensemble with Houman Pourmehdi. She will be performing with the Lian Ensemble in collaboration with tabla Maestro Pandit Swapan Chaudhuri, who will be joined by Raaginder Momi Singh on Indian classical violin and Nilan Chaudhuri, also on tabla. The Chitresh Das Institute Communications Intern, Shruti Pai, interviewed Pirayeh Pourafar to get her insights on her work as an artist and her thoughts about the upcoming production of “Noor - Music Legends of India & Iran” at Z Space, Sept 29 & 30, TICKETS www.zspace.org/noor
Can you talk a little bit about your upbringing and musical training?
I was nine years old when I went to Royal National Conservatory in Iran, and then I started my musical training at the conservatory and I got my bachelors degree in Iran. And then I moved to Spain and I embarked more music but then towards western music. And four years I was there and I studied at the Conservatory of Music in Madrid and then I moved to the states and I went to CalArts, and then I got my MSA in composition, performing composer program.
Where do you draw inspiration from when composing?
To be very frank and honest with you, I don’t like to sit down and push myself to compose. It doesn’t work for me. Most of the time, compositions are what is happening to me, and if someone goes through my composition, with lyrics or without lyrics, some of my compositions are instrumental, some of them are songs, they can guess where I was, how I felt, and how was that occasion affecting me. I think I share my life indirectly with my audience through my composition. I don’t believe that we compose actually, I believe this is a gift, and that you have to be connected to “beloved,” and he grants you, because he is the creator and I am not, and at that moment at that period, I am lucky enough to be connected, and he allows me to find my name for his composition.
What significance does this collaboration with Hindustani and Iranian music have to you?
I love Swapan, and I’ve worked with him before, we’ve had concerts before. And to be honest with you, if I love a musician and I respect the musician, I love to find a common denominator. And since music is a universal language, we can find a common denominator, but the essence is respect and love. I love to explore the world through music and when I see a lovely master musician, then it’s my ultimate desire to do something with that musician. And Swapan is a great person and I love him so much. Not only a great musician but human being, and I respect this element about him. He is a very, very lovely human being, and at his level of virtuosity, masterfulness, it’s really hard to find someone whose ego doesn’t drive him, and I respect him for that so much.
Could you talk a little bit about the ensembles that you’ve led and how they’ve impacted you as a musician?
My perspective to music has changed, and for that I’ve had different musicians and different direction, and also some of the musicians have moved to other countries, or something happened. And then you start another ensemble, another ensemble. But the main thing always was to introduce Persian music to as wide an audience as possible. Because I love my country, but Persian music is kind of unknown. I left my country in 1979 I went to Spain, and then with the breach between Persian and other musicians and other kinds of music that are more familiar with the western audience, I can introduce my music to those people, and that’s what actually is the base and element for me leading ensembles and going through all these things.
Have you experienced any challenges being a female musician?
Without challenge, life will not go on. Life is with challenge in every aspect, and music is not an exception for that. As a nurse you have challenges, as a doctor you have challenges, even as a mother you have challenges. It is not an exception to that. Especially as a female musician from Iran, I had to go through a lot of different things because you have to prove yourself. Unfortunately, when they see a man, they automatically think that person has achieved whatever, but when they see a female, because of stereotypes they think, “Oh can she do that? Is she okay? Is she well?” And then you have to prove yourself. This adds a little bit more challenge to the self as a female musician rather than a male musician, but music is full of challenges and I respect that and I actually like it. Without challenge you don’t push yourself to a higher level.
Do you have a personal connection to the word “Noor?”
Definitely. Because light is the opposite of dark. And today, especially in this kind of society that we are living in, we need to spread light as much as possible because it is a very dark era right now. And to me, light always brings love, kindness, happiness, and opposite of dark. And I love the title of the concert, “Noor,” which means a lot and even my saying it right now I get goosebumps.
What do you hope the audience will take away from the show?
To be very frank and honest, I just want them to come with open hearts, and then whatever they achieve is fine with me. The only things I request, and hope, actually I’m not in the position to request anything, I hope that they come with open hearts, and let us pour love in their hearts. Because everybody in the ensemble, we love each other, and what we are trained, I’m not saying that is all of this world, there is this, there is that. But we love each other and we share this common love, and we want to share this love and respect with the audience. And if they have an open mind, open heart, I want them to be happy, that’s it. The “noor” hopefully goes to their heart.
Pirayeh will be performing in “Noor - Music Legends of India & Iran” on Sept 29 & 30 at Z Space, in San Francisco. Tickets can be purchased at www.zpsace.org/noor
MORE ABOUT PIRAYEH POURAFAR
PIrayeh Pourafar is the Co-Founder of the Lian Ensemble with Houman Pourmehdi. She is a composer whose compositions have been noted for innovative sophistication, thoughtfulness, and commanding technique. She entered the Royal National Music Conservatory of Teheran at the age of nine, where she started her studies with Masters Houshang Zarif, Habiboallah Sallehi, Mahmoud Karimi and Grand Master Ali Akbar-Khan Shahnazi. From these masters she learned the Radif of Persian Traditional Music. She obtained an extensive knowledge of theory and a greatly accomplished technique on the Tar. After several years of training and numerous performances, she began her official cooperation with the National Radio and Television of Iran in 1975. At seventeen, Pourafar had performed with Iran's most prestigious artists at the Center of Preservation and Propagation of Traditional Persian Music, where she worked as both a performer and a teacher for four years. In 1979 Pirayeh moved to Spain to continue her studies in Western Classical Music at the Conservatory of Madrid and resided in Europe for three years. In 1982 she came to the U.S. where later she received her Master of Fine Arts from the California Institute of Arts. Pirayeh was a music director of the Nava Ensemble from 1989 to 1994. She led the Nava ensemble to critical acclaim and established a reputation for high artistic standards and innovative and educational concert experiences. She created a successful summer series with capacity audiences and encouraged the organization's community involvement. She is known not only for her work in traditional Persian music, but also for her creative east-west fusion of composition and performance work. She has composed work for the stage, orchestra, solo performers and Instrumental ensemble. Pirayeh’s diverse performing background has led her involvement in many innovative ensembles. Pirayeh has headlined on major festivals throughout the world. She has given lecture-demonstrations, and workshops throughout the United States , Europe, and Middle East . Pirayeh composed music for short film The River’s Quest which was featured at the 2003 CalArts View Screening Series Festival. Pourafar is the recipient of the Durfee ARC 2008, the Durfee Master Musician Fellowship 2006, L.A. Treasures Awards 2005, ACTA Apprenticeship Program 2004, Individual Artist Fellowship Award C.O.L.A. 2004, ACTA recipient 2003, and American Composer Forum (Composers Suitcase), Middle Eastern Unite, 2002. Pirayeh is one of the first women to play the traditional Persian Music outside Iran, thereby paving the way for the wider role for women in traditional Persian music in Iran. Pirayeh has composed music for two plays "Philoktetes" Directed by Michael Hackett and Olivier Award-winning British actor, Henry Goodman; as well as, "Medea" starring Annette Bening directed by Lenka Udovicki. In 1996 Pirayeh co-founded The Lian Ensemble. In a versatile career as a concert musician, recording artist, composer and teacher, Pirayeh has traveled and performed widely throughout the world.