Persian and Greek music is completely unknown to me. I'm aware of the lyra and some of its music through other traditional string instruments, but my only contact with the santur (or hammered dulcimer) has been its incongruous insertion into progressive jazz. Eastern classical traditions are rich with complexity, using elaborate, and very delicate, tonal systems based on alternate temperaments and modes not found in the West. Peyman Heydarian seeks to address this common lack of understanding through illuminating concerts and a varied educational career.
The santur is the intricate pinnacle of Persian classical music: a string instrument with 70-100 strings that are struck with light hammers. The music is tonally based on a system of 12 modes (Dastaghs) and is typically florid and virtuosic, favouring ornamentation and impossible accuracy. Heydarian is an accomplished master of the instrument, and in his solo improvisations he is vibrant, furious and passionate. Also performing on the daf, a Persian drum filled with beads, his solo style is captivating and packed with talent, demanding the attention of the audience.
Performing alongside Heydarian were his wife, Parastoo Heydarian, the singer; Alireza Sareban on tonbak, a Persian drum; and Vassilis Chatzimakris, a renowned lyra player. Heydarian the singer and Sareban provided able accompaniment to the santur, keenly attuned to the songs once established. The voice lacked presence, volume and refinement, but showed some musicality. Chatzimakris is a fantastic player: his nimble improvisations during the pieces of Greek music, most notably during the Sousta (an intimate and wild couples' dance), leapt from his strings, galloping around the Holywell. His shine (and break free of Heydarian's overly commanding influence) resonated with the vibrancy of Greek traditional music and the exciting possibilities of the lyra.
In a small ensemble the relationship between performers is key. The musicians must listen and watch each other intently to produce a cohesive sound. The performance dynamic of Heydarian's group completely lacked this mutual balance, often confused and clashing. The key perpetrator was Heydarian himself, demanding the prominent role in the texture. He would launch into his own solos in the midst of the other players' improvisations, end his own with little indication or warning, creating confusion and disruption, and transition between songs so capriciously that the other musicians frequently had to stop to realise what was happening. Chamber music requires intense collaboration because the texture is too thin to allow for a single performer to ever fully emerge. Heydarian seemingly ignores this concept, obscuring his own talent and that of his fellow performers.
Overall, although there were some elating moments, the whole concert was soured by Heydarian's overbearing musicianship. Partnered with his abject lack of charisma between pieces it is a shame that the recital came over this way. He is, undeniably, a fantastic santur player, and with musicians like Chatzimakris to play with great things could, and maybe will, be achieved.