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At the Met, the tanbur is back

By - May 28, 2019 - Category Articles - Print Print - Version française

Showcase of Ostad Elahi's instruments at the MET

 

The tanbur is back… A few months ago, in 2018, a couple of steps away from the oldest piano in the world, a showcase was inaugurated in the department of musical instruments at the Met (Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York). Dedicated to a few “famous musicians” of the 20th century, it featured a Benny Goodman clarinet next to a guitar that belonged to Andrés Segovia as well as one of Ostad Elahi’s tanburs, crafted by the lute maker Nariman, along with a video including explanations and archived images that harked back to the 2014-2015 Sacred Lute exhibit, that we covered here.

 


 

The Met has since then added new acquisitions to its collection: a daf (Kurdish tambourine) and several lutes (a Persian setar, a choghur, and a five-string tanbur whose characteristic sound can be heard here: click on sample 9368). These instruments that once belonged to Ostad Elahi are now displayed together in one showcase in the vicinity of other musical world heritage treasures (17th century mandolins, theorbos, virginals and viola da gamba, a Stradivarius, a Chinese pipa, a Japanese shakuhachi, an African mbira,…).

 

Ostad Elahi's setar Ostad Elahi's choghur Ostad Elahi's five-string tanbur Ostad Elahi's daf

Displayed in the following order: Setar, Choghur, Five-string tanbur and Daf (source: www.metmuseum.org)

 

To inaugurate this addition, two events organized at the Met itself enabled the public to become more familiar with the musical legacy of Ostad Elahi. To start with, what better way than to be directly exposed to the music itself, through the person who is today its most eminent legatee: Ostad Elahi’s son, Dr Chahrokh Elahi. His public performances being so rare, such events inevitably become unique. For more than half an hour, the several hundred listeners gathered in the museum’s grand auditorium on the evening of the 5th of April 2019 were transported by a particularly intense performance of Shâh Hoseyni, an emblematic piece of Ostad’s repertoire. The performance was recorded by New York Public Radio for New Sounds and is available as a podcast (below at 27’20’’ or here). Subsequently, the double bassist Renaud Garcia-Fons, accompanied by his ensemble, prolonged this first voyage by taking the wealth of harmonics of the tanbur through new musical territories.


From 27’20’’ to 46’00’’: The Musical Legacy of Ostad Elahi – Live performance of Chahrokh Elahi at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on the 5th of April 2019

The next day, a panel gathered to evoke, in words this time, the place of music in Ostad Elahi’s work. With WNYC’s (New York Public Radio) producer John Schaefer as master of ceremonies, the following guests were invited to share their views on the subject: David Levitin, a cognitive psychologist and neuroscientist known for his best-selling books on the neurobiological foundations of musical perception; Theodore Levin, specialized in the music of Central Asia and a professor at Dartmouth College; and Leili Anvar, an orientalist whose contribution centered more specifically on the links between music, poetry and spirituality.

The discussion was launched by the premiere screening of a film entirely dedicated to the musical life of Ostad Elahi. Alternating archival images, previously unreleased interviews and performances, this documentary codirected by John Schaefer offers a musical portrait of Ostad Elahi that is both informative and moving. It unveiled certain aspects of his extraordinary creativity, but also of the impact of his playing on a number of people who heard him during his lifetime, or who simply discovered him through the recordings published over the last twenty-five years (the latest of which was released as a box set co-produced by the Met entitled “The Musical Legacy of Ostad Elahi at the Met”, including two CDs: Resilience and My Beginning and My End).

It is impossible to sum up here the rich and lively discussion that followed the projection of the film. Some of the topics raised included the spirit of tradition and the nature of creative genius, the power of rhythm, the miracles of improvisation, the link between music, poetry and mysticism, as well of course as what generally makes art a medium for self-realization and meditative communication with more subtle dimensions of reality. As Leili Anvar rightly recalled on that occasion, one is not minimizing the importance of Ostad’s musical legacy when viewing it in light of what was truly for him the gist of his whole approach: a personal and rigorous experimentation on the path of spiritual perfection and self-knowledge, most clearly illustrated by his writings and words. Thus put into perspective, the music of the tanbur, beyond aesthetic delight or intellectual exploration, is primarily a means for intensifying one’s connection with what Ostad called “the Source”.

 

The Musical Legacy of Ostad Elahi at the Met

 


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4 comments

  1. shany Jun 07, 2019 5:45 pm 1

    Fantastic and indescribable just listen… Thank you very much.

  2. Wlihelm Jun 09, 2019 6:23 pm 2

    This is a beautiful presentation of the musical instruments of Ostad Elahi which is proposed to the discovery of visitors of the MET.

  3. Sharon Jun 10, 2019 12:16 am 3

    Wonderful summary of a thought-provoking, inspiring and educational event.

  4. Yan Jun 10, 2019 7:31 pm 4

    These two CDs are so great! On beginning of the last track (6-Suite de Jelo Shahi) of the CD “My Beginning and My End” you can hear Ostad’s prayer. His humble tone of conversation with the Source has inspired and made me understand what my conversation with the Source should sound like. It also deepens my connection each time I listen to it before my prayer.

    I bought them both to have the booklets, but I am glad that both CDs were also launched on streaming platforms such as “Spotify” and “Apple Music” so that I can always have them at my figure tips and listen to them whenever I want.

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