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Duke Performances continues its virtual concert series The Show Must Go Online! with a stunning filmed performance from Kayhan Kalhor. This Grammy-nominated performer and composer has ties to both Iranian and Western classical music, and is a multi-instrumentalist, but he is most acclaimed for his virtuosity on the kamancheh (also known as a spiked fiddle).
The performance, filmed with Kalhor's adept crew, was a blend of traditional Iranian music and improvisatory melodies; it was a creative recreation of tradition, never repeating itself. In other words, the music that Kalhor unfurled sounds free to the Western ear, but is actually a result of thorough training in Persian radif (the Persian word for order), a catalogue of modal sets that takes years to study and even longer to master.
Clearly, Kalhor is a master of both genre and instrument, given his extensive renown and discography, both as a solo and ensemble artist. This performance, titled "Echoes of the East," was accompanied by Navid Afghah, a tombak (Iranian drum) player who added ethereal roots to Kalhor's kamancheh melodies. The richly spiritual concert was filmed in a round space, which emphasized the music's circular melodies and organic improvisations.
The concert's format was atypical compared to many of Duke Performance's past offerings – there was no concert program, nor was there a setlist announced from the stage. Instead, the music was a continuous stream, easy to get lost in, creating an atmosphere rather than a succession of songs. This atmosphere was calming in an unpredictable way.
The word "echoes" factored heavily into Kalhor's performance – gentle tremolos at phrase endings created reverberations that brought to mind this concert's title. Melodically, a common thread was found in phrase shape – Kalhor is a master of creating intense, driving phrases on the kamancheh that pulse forward and then drift away. It is a wonder that he creates such intricate phrasing from a small number of strings – four, to be exact.
When the kamancheh blends with the raindrop-like texture created from Afghah's gentle drumming, the duo settles in like a solemn, reverent procession. Soon, this texture gives way to more intricate rapid phrases on the kamancheh – a buzzing fever beneath and sharp melodic strikes throughout. The intensity in these moments is riveting, as the two musicians create lots of emotion with seemingly small gestures. At times, a rolling, rapid pattern appears, almost demanding movement from the audience, like a head nod or tap of the foot, before the melody evaporates into something new. The camerawork for this filmed performance did make up for not being there in person, although it's hard not to imagine how powerful it would be in person, feeling the energy from this music that is traditional, yet new.
And then it just... ends! It's likely that this 50-ish minute long performance left concert viewers wanting more, or at least wanting to know more about the Iranian music that Kalhor crafts.