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Iranian-Born Composer To Highlight Allentown Symphony's Exploration Of "Life's Journeys"


Songs of Eternity by Iranian-born, American composer Behzad Ranjbaran will highlight the February 11 and 12 concert by the Allentown Symphony Orchestra.  The performance, featuring Soprano Tamara Matthews, will be the third performance of the work.  Other works in the concert, titled "Life's Journeys," will be Liszt's Les Preludes and Tchaikovsky's Symphony Number 6, Pathetique

Behzad Ranjbaran

"The three works," says ASO Artistic Director and Composer, Diane Wittry, "search for the meaning in life in different ways.  They show how three composers express their deepest thoughts."

In the Songs Ranjbaran, who currently teaches at Juilliard, set nine couplets from the Ruba'iyat of the Persian poet, Omar Khayyam to music. The composition came from his life-long fascination with the poems, which he describes as "an expression of love and peace, an affirmation of eternal life."  It was also inspired by his friend, Rénee Fleming, for whom the piece was written.


Tamara Matthews

Tamara Matthews, who has sang with the Houston, Philadelphia, Hong Kong and other symphonies, will be the Soprano soloist for the Allentown concert.  A rising young star in the operatic and concert world's Matthews has also performed with major opera companies, including two recent operatic world premiers.

Another work of Ranjbaran's is his PersianTtrilogy, which was recorded by the London Symphony Orchestra.  Its three parts,  Seemorgh, The Bood of Seyavash, and Seven Passages, comprise a cycle inspired by the 11th Century epic poem Shahname, (The Book of Kings).   The American Record Guide describes the recording as "noble and brilliantly conceived."

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Les Preludes was, also, inspired by poetry.  Liszt, who invented the Symphonic Poem, took his inspiration from the works of the French poet, Alphonse de Lamartine, in particular a poem with the same name ass the composition.  "What else is life," says Liszt in his Introduction to the piece, "but a series of preludes to that unknown hymn, the first and solemn note of  which is Death.  Love is the enchanted dawn of all existence; but what fate is there whose first delights of happiness are not interrupted by some storm..."

Originally named "A Programmatic Symphony" Tchaikovsky's Sixth Symphony was his last.  It premiered just nine days before his death, an apparent suicide.  The day after the performance he changed the name, at the suggestion of his brother, to Pathétque.

Although he is reported to have been in good spirits while composing the work much of its thematic material comes from the Russian Mass for the Dead.  Although the symphony is now established as one of the great works of Western music it was weakly received in its premier. It was played again in a memorial service ten days after his death, this time it received a standing ovation.

The concert will be on Saturday, February 11, at 8:00 and Sunday, February 12 at 3:00.  Tickets and information can be obtained at (610)432-6715 or on line at


"Songs of Eternity" and Behzad Ranjbaran

The Allentown Symphony's performance of Ranjbaran's "Song of Eternity" will be only the third for the work. Written for his friend, Soprano Rene Fleming, the piece is inspired by his long infatuation with the Ruba'iyat of Omar Khayyam. The piece, described as "beautiful... (with) exquisite melismas (expressive passages sung in one syllable)," in the Seattle Post Intelligencer, premiered with the Seattle Symphony.  

The compositional problem for Ranjbaran was how to translate his response to the hundreds of Ruba'is (couplets) in the poem into something musically and textually coherent. In the process of choosing the nine couplets that form his libretto he found himself reevaluating "many of his philosophical and moral values concerning life."  The work evolved into an "emotional journey, an expression of love and peace, an affirmation of eternal life."   Ranjbaran describes the final composition as "a musical documentation" of this self-exploration.

A four-note motive provides the soul of the songs.  It is present in all three of the songs and provides not only their sense of unity but the basis for the contrast within them.

The Seattle Post Intelligencer the said "work harks back to Mahler in the sumptuousness and subtle nuance of its orchestration and in its tonal footprint, but there is nothing derivative about it.  Its color and drama fit without mirroring the words of the Ruaiyat of Omar Kahayyam."

Worth noting is another of the cmoposer's works the Persian Trilogy, a three part cycle based on the 11th Century epic, Shahname. Its legendary material reveals an ancient truth, "heroes are made not born," say the composer.   Its first part, Seemorgh, was described by the L.A. times as "Dark, threatening, driving, splashy and brilliant...thoroughly accomplishe..."   The Nashville Scene said of the second piece, The Blood of Seyavash,  that it contained "inherent beauty...(as) a rich (an) experience as a ballet..."  The third composition of the trilogy,  Seven Passages, was, again in the L.A. Times, described as moving "from a fairy-tale gossamer beginning to its full scale triumphant conclusion."

Behzad Ranjbaran was born in 1955 in Tehran and by the age of 9 was admitted to the Tehran Music Conservatory.  In 1974 he came to the United States to study at Indiana University.  After graduation he pursued both a master and doctorate degree at Juilliard, where he now teaches.

While at IU he became close friends with renowned violinist, Joshua Bell, who premiered his Violin Concerto with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic. The critic for the Liverpool Echo said "the concerto...just sings out a fine melodic line, the effect is ravishing." 

Among Ranjbaran's more than a dozen orchestral works, an equal number of chamber works and choral and vocal pieces are his "Persian Trilogy," recorded by the London Symphony Orchestra.  The three parts of this composition, Seven Passages, Seemorgh, and The Blood of Seyavash were inspired by the 11th Century epic poem "Shahnameh" (The Book of Kings).  Other pieces include "The Open Secret," which premiered with the New Amsterdam Singers, and "Thomas Jefferson," which was commissioned by New Heritage Music and premiered with the Virginia Symphony.

Ranjbaran has received numerous awards.  His "Violin concerto" won the Rudolf Nissim Award and the Charles Ives Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He was named a "Distinguished Artist: by the New Jersey Council on the Arts and has won both National endowment for the Arts and Meet the Composer grants.  In 2005 he was the Composer-In-Residence at the Saratoga, NY Performing Arts Center where the Philadelphia Orchestra premiered his "Saratoga," written for the fortieth anniversary of the Festival.

The Soprano for the performance will be Tamara Matthews, a rising star in the concert and opera worlds since her 1994 debut at Carnegie Hall. The appearance followed her First Prize in the Musica Sacra Bach Vocal Competition.  The Wall Street Journal described her as "operatically grand."  Ms Matthews has appeared with the Haifa, Philadelphia, Cleveland and Houston Symphonies as well as performances in France and Spain.    Her numerous festival appearances include the Hong Kong, Berkeley, Marlboro and Edinburgh Festivals.  Local audiences will know her from her appearance with the Bach Choir of Bethlehem.


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