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An Interview with Composer Shahrokh Yadegari

In the course of a brief conversation about his

work, composer and educator Shahrokh
Yadegari, Ph.D., touches on elements as
disparate as Persian influences in the Dead Sea
Scrolls to the ways Kierkkegard and Neitzche
helped shape Western beliefs of good and evil.
At the root of it all is what drives him, both
personally and professionally. “For many years,
my work has been about connecting opposites
to each other,” he says. “It’s kind of my heritage, having grown up Jewish in Iran,
and bringing unity among opposites forms my musical world.”

As the composer of a new multichannel sound installation guest curated by

Lawrence Rinder at the Judah L. Magnes Museum, Yadegari is once again bringing
opposites together. The two were inspired by the work of Rinder’s grandfather,
Reuben R. Rinder (1887-1966), cantor for Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco
from 1915 to 1959 and one of the most important figures in the development of
20th-century Jewish liturgical music. “The whole thing started with a simple melody
that Cantor Rinder had written for his congregation,” Yadegari says. “That is the
seed of the installation. We wanted to continue his tradition of bringing different
cultures together through music.”

To that melody, Yadegari has added elements of classical Persian and electronic
music, as well as singing in Hebrew, Farsi and English. Words are drawn from the
ancient Jewish priestly benediction, as well as from two poems by the Sufi
philosopher Rumi. The vocalists and musicians performing the piece also bridge East
and West, including Siamak Shajarian, the most famous Persian singer living in the
United States.

The composition is built in layers, Yadegari explains, with each layer set up so that it
can melt into the others. A computer, programmed to select channels somewhat
randomly, brings the layers in and out of range. Four beds comprise the full
composition: an instrumental bed, an electronic bed, a vocal bed and a second
instrumental bed that responds to the vocals.

“In general, the vocals are the leading element, but it’s not in a linear form,” Yadegari
says. “Though it can be listened to in that way and we will be recording it that way,
the installation makes it so that you hear different sounds coming from different
locations in the space. You actually feel the sounds moving around the room.”

The word space has a musical meaning in Persian, he explains. “We talk about the
space of a certain melody,” Yadegari says. “The way the different layers are connected
is how the space is connected and how the audience is connected in the space.”
Connecting audiences and cultures to one another is, for Yadegari, what music is all
about. “We are living in a world where any kind of social, political or religious
position polarizes people. It’s a big problem right now,” he says. “But the act of
musicking—it’s not a thing, but an action—to me, it’s the act of community building.
It’s about creating harmonious relationships, not only in the sounds we hear, but in
our relationships with each other.”

REVISIONS Shahrokh Yadegari: Through Music, guest curated by Lawrence Rinder,

runs from September 10, 2007, to July 6, 2008.

The Judah L. Magnes Museum is located at 2911 Russell Street in Berkeley. Hours
are Sunday through Wednesday 11 am–4 pm and Thursday 11 am–8 pm. Suggested
museum admission is $6 for adults and $4 for students and seniors. Visit the Magnes
website at or call 510.549.6950 for information about programs
and exhibitions.

Image: Composer Shahrokh Yadegari. Photo by Bijan Mottaheddeh.