Peyman Heydarian

One of the UK's premiere performers on the santur, regularly performing solo and with his band.

December 3, 2015
The Voice of Santur - 29th November 2015

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.


March 16, 2015
A Musical Celebration of Nowruz - 15th March 2015

Nowruz (literally 'New Day') marks the first day of the Persian New Year, and is a holy day for people of different faiths. It also marks the Spring equinox, and tonight's concert happened to coincide with Mothers' Day, to boot. In short, many reasons to make music.

On offer tonight was traditional music from Iranian santur star, Peyman Heydarian, and Kurdish singer/songwriter, Mansour Izadpanah, accompanied by Sulaiman Haqpana from Afghanistan on the tabla (drums).The Persian santur is a hammered dulcimer – a trapezoid box with 72 strings, played with featherweight mallets. It is similar to the Indian santoor, with variants found throughout Europe and Asia. Heydarian had two such instruments, the second with 100 strings, which he used interchangeably. They looked quite beautiful.

I have followed tabla and santur maestros for nearly 20 years, and understand how difficult it is to make a santur sing and a tabla ring. What interested me most about this evening, then, was how the santur was able to melt into the background to allow Mansour Izadpanah's exquisite vocals to shine through. Rich and smooth, Izadpanah's voice and his plaintive renderings of Kurdish love songs were captivating.

The paper programme we were given was actually from one of their earlier performances.Yet, tonight's repertoire was completely different, with six fewer musicians and different pieces, mostly songs. I couldn't tell whether they were especially celebratory, to reflect the occasion. Even accepting a few last-minute emergency changes, which often happen, I'm sure that those unfamiliar with the genre would have appreciated some more guidance on the content, particularly as the explanatory commentary was on occasions difficult to hear. I personally would have loved English translations of some of the songs, to give extra depth and meaning to their melodies.

After the show, I chatted briefly with Sulaiman Haqpana, the tabla player. Originally from Afghanistan, he learned the tabla in neighbouring Pakistan, which has produced some of the world's most renowned tabla virtuosos. He is still a student, under the tutelage of a guru in London. Incorporating Hindustani classical tabla rhythm cycles into Persian music requires a slightly different 'dialect'. It's all fusion, he says. And how wonderful that London, where they live, has brought together this diversity.

Overall, I would say that tonight's performance perhaps did not showcase the full potential of these musicians. It would be great to see what the other collaborators – including musicians from Italy and Brazil – would have added to the musical melting pot. There seems to be so much variety in their performances, so to get a flavour, and decide for yourself, you can go to www.thesantur.com.

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