Australia is a country of small surprises. What was surprising about the performance by the Mehr Ensemble at the Melba Hall on Saturday 25 July (see Persian Classical Music at Melba Hall) was not the quality of the music, nor the quality of the musicianship, but the extent of the local content, the extent to which this wonderful musical tradition seems to be taking root here. Three of the five musicians are residents or habitués of Melbourne, a fourth is here temporarily doing some work with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.
The program had many high moments. One of the more striking was a solo by Toofan Toghyani on the Daf, an instrument thought to have been used in Sufi ceremonies; imagine a large tambourine-like instrument (80-90 cm diameter) with the metal rings inside rather than penetrating the frame. Nominally suspended between the thumb and forefinger of each hand, it seemed more to be suspended by the complex rhythms of the fingers, almost floating in front of the performer. By the time this was approaching its climax, a good proportion of the audience was half out of its chair.
The audience reaction to the whole program was very enthusiastic, and at the end the applause went on and on, the entire audience on its feet.
All this took place in a building resonant with Australia’s achievements in the Western classical tradition – the foundation stone laid by Dame Nellie Melba in 1909, the portraits of Dame Nellie and Louise Hanson-Dyer, founder of Paris-based Les Editions l’Oiseau-Lyre, the photograph of Percy Grainger, the museum for whom is undergoing renovation on the adjscent plot at Melbourne University.
This is what we are told about the Mehr Ensemble and the individual musicians in the program notes:
The Mehr Ensemble
The Mehr Ensemble was principally formed by specialised musicians for specific projects and compositional pieces. The flexibility within the ensemble is fundamentally the use of relevant instruments which are suitable for the performance of particular music pieces and arrangements depending upon the composition and projects at hand.
The Mehr Ensemble began in Tehran, Iran in the year of 1999 by Pooya Mehman Pazir and has continued its active operation to date. The masters of this ensemble are currently skilled instrumentalists in their own fields and the ensemble members may increase and vary depending upon projects and tours.
The focus of this ensemble is to create new revelations in the light and framework of Persian ancient Radif musical systems with embedded energy which is intended to lift the soul and the hearts of the lovers of cultural music.
The current members and the infrastructure of this group are: Pooya Mehman Pazir, group leader and instrumentalist on the Tar and Setar, Mehdi Mirzaei, vocals, Samira Karimi, Kamanche and Setar and Toofan Toghyani, Daf, Dayareh and Ney.
The focus of the Mehr Ensemble is purely aimed at creating music which is highly filtered and fine tuned to high standards, irrespective of ensemble size. To create complex musical pieces in pure form and create a new dimension to sounds that effect both human soul and spirit.
Pooya Mehman Pazir
Born in Shiraz (Iran) in the year of 1977, Pooya showed interest in music from early childhood and embarked on playing the Setar. Progressively improving his techniques and knowledge in traditional Iranian musical model systems, at the age of 15 he commenced professional training under the supervision of music masters such as Master Behnam Vadani simultaneously brushing up on techniques on the instrument Tar. Pooya successfully passed the mandatory stringent examinations required by the institutions and met all necessary prerequisites, gaining entrance to the Art University of Tehran at the age of 22.
Completing the 4 year course he obtained his bachelor in music and was offered 3rd national postgraduate position (out of 5 offered) in the field of composition.
During the process of his tertiary education Pooya obtained valuable knowledge on instrument techniques from: Behnam Vadani, Mohamad Reza Ebrahimi, Darioush Talai, Mehrbanu Tofiq, and the theory of music and composition from Hoseyn Dehlavi, Sharif Lotfi, Amir Eslami, Siavash Beyzai.
Pooya began performing with the “Sepidar” and Art University Ensembles as well as the Austrian cultural consulate choir from the year of 2000 in a number of noteworthy concerts in renown venues of Iran.
Having established the “Mehr” ensemble in Tehran and after migrating to Australia in 2006, he is continuing activities with relevant members in Melbourne, his primary focus remains in creating compositions of unique nature. He has also worked in conjunction with Radio and Television in Tehran and composed music for films and theatres as well as teaching in the Art University of Tehran since 2002, and voluntarily in the school of “Asaye sepid” for the blind.
Pooya actively teaches students theory and instrumental techniques in traditional Persian music both privately and at the institute of the Iranian Cultural and Arts Society of Victoria.
Pooya currently leads the Mehr Ensemble in progressive projects and forthcoming concerts and repertoires.
Born in Tehran in 1972, Mehdi became interested in Persian traditional music from early childhood.
Following his passion and interest in the realm of music he commenced training at the age of 15 on his own singing known songs. At the age of 18 he began professional training under the supervision of Master Shapoor Rahimi for a number of years focusing on traditional modal systems (Radif-e Avazi) in vocal techniques.
Continuing his intense training he followed onto participation in solfege and music theory under the supervision of Mrs. Soodabe Shams, one of the well recognised and respected masters of solfege and musical theory of Tehran.
His in-depth understanding and perception in Persian literature and poetry was obtained from his correlations with Master Mohamad Reza Ahmadian.
He has participated in a number of concerts in Iran and Australia a solo vocalist and is well recognised nationally for his techniques in singing and fluidity of his voice.
Toofan was born in Tehran in 1978. He embarked on his study of Persian music from the age of nine, under the supervision of Master Khaledi, training in the Iranian classical style piano. Subsequent to his migration to Australia, at the age of thirteen he continued his own familiarisation and study of Iranian classical, folk and Sufi music.
Toofan was tremendously seduced by the immense strength and depth of his exploration and he began the learning of the Ney, deriving techniques as played by master Ney players, Mohamad Mousavi, Mohamad Reza Kiani Nezhaad and Jamshid Andalibi.
Journeying deeper towards the magnetic attraction of Persian Sufi music, he began a very intense training in the playing of the Daf.
Toofan has since performed Persian Sufi and classical style music pieces, participated in movie soundtracks (Serenades) and performed in concerts, festivals, TV and radio programs with Master Musicians and singers such as Sivan Perwer, Davod Azad and Habibolah Badi’ee in renown venues internationally such as Volks Theater in Vienna, Graz, Paris, Oslo, Moscow, Almati, Hamburg, London, Toronto, Ottawa and Australian venues and events such as the International Arts Festival at the Sydney Opera House.
Having established superior techniques and his own distinct adroitness and style on Daf and Ney Toofan is a well-respected Iranian musician internationally.
Toofan is now actively involved in concerts and musical events and tours with the Mehr Ensemble, Sivan Perwer and Davod Azad internationally.
Born in the north of Iran in 1980, Samira began her journey in the path of music in early childhood.
With a gifted voice, and passion to express her love in music, she began vocal training in 1994 and at the age of 10 she was playing the Setar and went on to playing the Kemanche.
With professional training and music theory, Persian classical style singing and harmony under the supervision of Masters Sharif Lotfi and Amir Eslami and training of Setar at the school of Master Zolfonoon, she is a special up and coming talent in the realm of Persian music with much to offer in her vocal techniques and in the instruments she plays.
She has been active in renown ensembles such as Sepidar, Tehran University Chorus (official ensemble) and is currently working with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.
Joel Christian Cerdor
Joel Christian Cerdor was born in Melbourne in 1985. At an early age Joel moved to many different small towns around Australia and befriended many individuals from various cultures predominantly from the Middle Eastern region. Having developed a liking for the culture and music of the Middle East, he listened to world music from a young age and proceeded onto learning classical guitar from his father Christian Cerdor.
Having researched music of many different countries, he discovered Persian music by listening to Masters Shajarian and Lotfi and this became the point at which he directed his life, love and focus towards Persian classical music.
In search of a teacher who could assist him in the learning of Setar he met Pooya Mehman Pazir who has been assisting him in the learning of Setar, Tar and Bamtar as well as training in the theory of Iranian Radif.
Being from a non Persian background, people have found that there is an element of surprise and depth hidden in his capability of playing these instruments.
He is currently a member of the Mehr Ensemble and plans on furthering his journey in Persian music by going to Iran.