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.”

over

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 www.magnes.org or call 510.549.6950 for information about programs and exhibitions.

Image: Composer Shahrokh Yadegari. Photo by Bijan Mottaheddeh.