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[News] “The Sacred Lute: The Art of Ostad Elahi” at the Met

1966 Ostad Elahi playing the tanbur

An exhibit opens this week at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, wholly devoted to the musical heritage of Ostad Elahi. Here is the official press release for The Sacred Lute : the Art of Ostad Elahi.

The exhibition runs from Aug. 5 2014 to Jan. 11 2015. Exhibition Location: The Hagop Kevorkian Fund Special Exhibition Gallery, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Ostad Elahi (1895–1974) was a renowned Persian musician, thinker, and jurist whose transformative work in the art of tanbūr—an ancient, long-necked lute—paralleled his innovative approach to the quest for truth and self-knowledge. Beginning August 5 at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Sacred Lute: The Art of Ostad Elahi will document the interdependent, mutually transformative relationship between player and instrument through a presentation of nearly forty rare instruments and works of art from the Elahi collection, the Musée de la Musique, Paris, and the Metropolitan Museum. The exhibition will include rare tanbūrs that belonged to Ostad Elahi and his father, who was also a great tanbūr player; a number of Elahi’s personal possessions, such as his judicial robes and a selection of manuscripts; as well as symbolic items that provide greater insights into his disciplined approach to life.

Metropolitan Museum of Art

© e-ostadelahi.com

Metropolitan Museum of Art

© e-ostadelahi.com

The exhibition is made possible in part by the Nour Foundation.

Small-bodied, long-necked plucked stringed instruments have been used in central and western Asia since the third millennium B.C. They appeared first in ancient Mesopotamia, and in their long history have been used for both secular and sacred music in regions ranging from Egypt and Greece to central and western Asia and India. The tanbūr became a sacred, venerated instrument used by dervishes in the mystical order Ahl-e Haqq (“fervents of truth”), founded in the late 14th century. The members of the order are primarily from western Iran and Iraq and use the instrument for contemplation, meditation, and ecstatic dance.

Nour Ali Elahi, later known as Ostad (master) Elahi, was raised in western Iran and learned tanbūr from his father, Hadj Nematollah, a charismatic mystic and poet who attracted tanbūr players from as far as Turkey and India. As a young child, because his hands were so small, Ostad played a tanbūr built from a wooden ladle, eventually graduating to the larger instrument. Under his father’s tutelage and influenced by the players who came to hear his father’s teaching, Ostad rapidly absorbed multiple musical styles and playing techniques, becoming a consummate master of the tanbūr by the age of nine.

The exhibition is organized by Ken Moore, Frederick P. Rose Curator in Charge in the Department of Musical Instruments at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.



The Sacred Lute: The Art of Ostad Elahi

A special commemorative CD-book was issued by the Metropolitan Museum and Le Chant du Monde (Harmonia Mundi) on the occasion of the exhibit “The Sacred Lute: the Art of Ostad Elahi” at the Metropolitan Museum.

More information about this publication


New York Times article photo

New York Times review of the exhibit

“Most mystics begin their lives in the wider community and then retreat into seclusion, but the musician and philosopher Ostad Elahi (1895-1974) followed the opposite path…” [read the full article on the website of the New York Times]

On Twitter…

Harmonia Mundi Tweet Jayson Dobney tweet 14 August 2014
Tweet Jayson Dobney

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  1. Marc Aug 08, 2014 10:37 pm 1

    Wonderful! It was a great treat, being able to see the exhibit in New York City, and listening to this celestial music played on the tanbūr. I highly recommend this very rare opportunity.

  2. L Singh Aug 10, 2014 11:13 pm 2

    It is a beautiful exhibition, very tranquil and lovely especially the music. Please send some information on the concert which is listed for the 6th of September, there is no information on it. Thank you

  3. neuro Aug 11, 2014 10:56 pm 3

    a truly beautiful experience. Hearing Ostad Elahi’s music even in such a public venue still gave me a feeling of being one-on-one with the Source. A scholarly and spiritual experience. Do not miss it!

  4. Linda Aug 13, 2014 3:24 pm 4

    @ L Singh
    I can’t wait to see the exhibition! There are many events associated with the exhibition. Go to metmuseum.org and under search field (top right) type in “elahi” you will see all the events related to the exhibition, but frankly to me, the exhibition is the highlight of the highlights! I also love the picture above of the curator Ken Moore handling Ostad Elahi’s rosary with such care and grace!

  5. adissam Aug 13, 2014 10:07 pm 5

    @ L Singh

    On the MET website it says: “This event is sold out” (6th September).

  6. juneone Aug 17, 2014 10:09 pm 6

    I went to see this exhibit and thought it was wonderful. I have been following this site, and some of the related sites and books for some time now, and have been piecing together the multiple dimensions in the story of Ostad Elahi. So it was extra special to go and view the tools that were important to his life’s work.

    I was especially moved when I saw the wooden yogurt spoon that stands encased in the entrance – right next to his tanbour . I had read that Ostad’s father made an instrument out of a wooden spoon for his small son, so that his fingers would be able to play, and there was an example of the spoon, it is so small! It helped me realize how small Ostad was when he started as a musician — and how dedicated & innovative his father was to have designed a musical instrument out of a household item. I will go back again. Thank you to the friends and family that saved and donated these items..

  7. visitor Aug 22, 2014 10:52 pm 7

    This exhibition feels truly divine, an exceptional atmosphere. The large screen shows many pictures of Ostad Elahi & one can hear his music throughout the entire room. It was difficult to leave the room… one just wants to stay, it feels as though time stands still.

  8. Blake Aug 28, 2014 3:15 pm 8

    I was at the Met and visited this exhibition. I completely felt what visitor wrote in comment no. 7. One must go there to feel that fantastic impact.

  9. Coco Sep 26, 2014 5:26 pm 9

    What a wonderful exhibit. There is an interesting range of beautifully displayed articles attesting to the mastery and scope of Ostad Elahi’s life. While viewing the exhibit, the visitor is treated to the wonderful sacred music and a brief introduction to the subject artfully projected on the wall at the beginning of the exhibit, providing the visitor with a framework within which to better view and understand what they are about to see.

    And everyone will want to view the brief documentary of Ostad Elahi on the terminals provided near the entrance to the exhibit. The sound quality of the music as heard through the headphones is truly an experience not to be missed.

  10. Mike Oct 19, 2014 1:33 pm 10

    After arriving from Europe, I took a taxi to take me to the museum. Driving through the heavy traffic of NYC and just before reaching the Met, Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 started playing on the radio. What a coincidence, Mozart’s symphony playing before visiting “The Sacred Lute: The Art of Ostad Elahi”. More interesting is the walk through the Met., one actually walks throughout the art history of mankind, from all over the world, ancient to modern, then gradually you start hearing Ostad Elahi’s tanbur coming from a room. Some of his belongings displayed, his instruments, his judicial robe and his hand writings, it’s just amazing. Now back in Europe, when I hear Mozart’s 40th symphony, it brings me back to the Exhibit. “Chance and coincidence are only illusions; there is always a cause and a reason for everything.” 100 Maxims of Guidance, OE. As said before, one must experience it!

  11. Ramin Oct 27, 2014 3:05 pm 11

    Once in a life time opportunity.

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