Musical Bridges Around the World’s annual festival features renowned Persian fiddle player Kayhan Kalhor
Kayhan Kalhor knows life will always involve the mundane—bills, dishes, work—which is why the Grammy Award–nominated musician says music and culture are so crucial. “Some of us will be professional musicians and some will be professional listeners, but music is so important in this world that we live in,” says Kalhor, who will perform on Friday, March 22, as part of Musical Bridges Around the World’s five-concert International Music Festival. “Culture is the only thing that’s worthwhile. A world without art and culture would be meaningless.”
The Iranian-born musician and composer began playing the kamancheh, which is a four-stringed upright spiked fiddle, as a young boy and now performs around the world. The festival also will feature American jazz trumpet player Tom Harrell, Japanese drum and flute player Kaoru Watanabe and others. Concerts are scheduled Friday through Sunday, March 24 at the Empire Theatre and San Fernando Cathedral. Kalhor chatted with us about the concert.
You started playing the kamancheh at a young age. How did you get into music?
My parents were music lovers. I started with the kamancheh, or Persian Violin, when I was 5. I was attracted to that instrument because of the sound. It (produces) kind of an earthier and deeper sound. It is closer to the human voice I think.
You’ll perform this weekend along with the string quartet Brooklyn Rider. Tell us about that collaboration.
We’ve been working together about 15 years now. We tour in North America and Europe. It started from Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road project, where we all got to know each other. They started their own quartet a few years after that. We all wanted to try new things so we connected to form this project (and the album Silent City), which involves a lot of improvisation. During the show (in San Antonio), we’ll play a few pieces that involve improvisation. The last piece is 30 minutes and that is improvised.
The festival features different music from around the world. Why do you think it is important to be exposed to different cultures in this way?
Considering what kind of world we live in today, we need that more than ever. I think that arts and culture can bring people closer together and help overcome ignorance and shortages. It makes us realize we’re all the same. We speak different languages and have different cultures, but we’re all people. Although politicians and policies can separate us, I think the theme in the world, (especially) during difficult days, should be us getting closer together.
How does technology impact our ability to understand and hear music?
I think audiences around the world are eager to learn about other cultures and with technology and YouTube and all of these different mediums, we can actually pursue that and it helps us to know more about each other. I think art gives meaning to our lives. It’s the only true window to life. Listening to music in a live performance is a totally different experience (than online). How many times have you heard Beethoven’s Ninth or Mozart’s 40th or even a piece by a pop singer? But it’s always a pleasure to see them in concert and see how that piece of music is done.
Musical Bridges Around the World International Music Festival