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Composer Sahba Aminikia reflects on his Iranian past

May 7, 2013 9:14 AM MST STEHEN SMO:LIAR

Last night at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM), Sahba Aminikia gave his Graduate Recital. He is currently studying composition with both Dan Becker and David Garner, having previously attended the St. Petersburg State Conservatory in Russia to study composition with

Composer Sahba Aminikia reflects on his Iranian past | 11/13/15, 1:10 PM

Boris Ivanovich Tishchenko. The two major works on the program, which was given the programmatic title Echoes of Tehran, have already received public exposure. His third string quartet, “A Threnody for Those Who Remain,” was commissioned by the Kronos String Quartet; and “Deltangi-ha” was given its world premiere by the Delphi Trio in their first recital as Artists in Residence in the Old First Concerts Series at Old First Church. The members of the Delphi Trio (Liana Bérubé, violin, Michelle Kwon, cello, and Jeffrey LaDeur, cello, all SFCM graduates) returned to SFCM to perform “Deltangi-ha.” The “Threnody” was also performed by SFCM graduates with Bérubé and Kwon joined by violinist Stephanie Bibbo and violist Amid Assadi.

True to the title of the program, both of these compositions are highly expressive reflections on the composer’s past in Tehran. What is most interesting about those reflections, however, is how they synthesize folk elements that evoke centuries of Persian tradition with the vigorous rhythms and dissonances of modernism. That modernism may be appreciated in the photograph by Mostafa Bazri used for the program cover (illustrated above), whose traffic arteries and tall buildings suggest deceptively that Tehran is no different from any other modern metropolis.

In a similar manner there is a familiarity to Aminikia’s approach to such grammatical constructs as harmonic progression. However, there are also qualities that are decidedly “other,” such as many of his sinuous melodies. Aminikia

Composer Sahba Aminikia reflects on his Iranian past | 11/13/15, 1:10 PM

also has a keen ear for sonority. This is particularly evident in “Deltangi-ha,” in which percussive tone clusters induce resonance in the high, undamped piano strings; and those resonances are then echoed in the upper harmonics of the violin and cello strings.

One could also appreciate Aminikia’s sensitivity to sonority in two short viola solos performed by Pei-Ling Lin, “Kereshmeh” and “Shetābān.” While both of these works were clearly structured around viola technique, that technique was engaged to evoke the sonorities of folk instruments through rhetorical devices such as portamento slides. “Shetābān” was particularly effective by taking the alternating triple and duple meters and emphasizing the polyrhythmic qualities by having the performer stamp her foot while playing.

There was also an element of sentimentality in two of the selections. The first of these involved Aminikia improvising against a series of projected images of Bazri’s photographs, providing yet another perspective on that juxtaposition of tradition and modernism. Then, at the end of the evening, the “Threnody” was followed by “That 70’s Song!,” which Aminikia wrote for his girlfriend. It was an arrangement of a song popular in the Iran of the Seventies (before the fall of the Shāh), for which Aminikia on piano joined the quartet that had just completed “Threnody.” The arrangement was a pleasant approach to jamming, allowing each of the performers a turn at “singing the tune” and providing well-needed relief after the intensity of

Composer Sahba Aminikia reflects on his Iranian past | 11/13/15, 1:10 PM

the “Threnody.”

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