Album cover: Tatari by Hooshyar Khayam
Album cover: Tatari by Hooshyar Khayam ©

Hermes Records

A thousand almonds, bitter and sweet

Hooshyar Khayam (b. 1978) is an Iranian composer, pianist and conductor. His works are in contemporary classical, contemporary jazz and Persian/world music. Danial Haghighi looks at different compositions by Khayam through the past decade.

Danial Haghighi


The first time I met Hooshyar Khayam (in a music review meeting), two aspects of his view of music attracted my attention. First, his emphasis on the technique of playing and performing music and second, the care he took to consider its overall feel. Hooshyar Khayam is among the young composers, along with other musicians such as Peyman Yazdanian, with the efforts of a few record and distribution companies, who have managed to launch a novel wave of composition which is somewhat convergent with the taste of the musical audience of the past two decades. He holds a doctorate in composition from the University of Cincinnati in the United States and won the first prize in the Franz Schubert Composition Competition in France, in 2011. 

Moreover, the first time I heard Hooshyar Khayam's music, I was so awestruck that for days and days, all I could do was to listen to his music. Listening to Hooshyar Khayam's music resembles a stroll in the hall of history; i.e. Hooshyar Khayam's concern, just as is the case for the contemporary intellectual currents in Iran, is a concern addressing identity. Like a South American wandering poet, Hooshyar Khayam keeps reconstructing various associative images from the historical vagrancies of an identity. The concern for identity is serious in the work of Hooshyar Khayam, which is more pronounced by his occasional borrowings from Iranian traditional music.  

Through using background and traditional musical motifs, Khayyam's music tries playfully to stimulate the listener's intelligence, and this game of using somewhat familiar motifs goes so far as to ultimately help us discover new sounds. His spectrum of specific references -for which the names of pieces can act as clues-, is quite broad: Nimaic poetry, Sepid Persian poetry, odes of Hafiz or Hannaneh's and Baghtcheban's music or even folk songs for children. This game takes the audience even beyond musical and audio-literary associations; the musical feeling of Khayam is so rich that it weaves a geography around its audience and instantly lures him/her to its snare. In some respects, he could be considered an experimental composer, whose work demonstrates his technical progress as a composer. He intends to reach his own abstract means of expression. From his earliest works, in Tatari (listen to excerpts online) to his last, Strings, he has trodden a somewhat long way and, from simpler compositions, has reached a more embellished and more developed music. 

In his first album, Tatari, which is a collection of solo piano pieces, Khayam demonstrates his technique more than anything. However, a piece with the same name, which has a fast rhythm, with repetition of multi-layered motifs in elaborate modulations, has managed to introduce him simultaneously as a dexterous player and a composer to the serious music audiences. Furthermore, his familiarity with Iranian folk music has added to the richness of this work. The technique of playing staccato notes with the left hand, which brings the music of southern Iran to mind, creates a unique quality in some of the pieces in this album. All these characteristics make the performance for any other player quite difficult; as the player is required to have a relative mastery over all the mentioned characteristics in the mentioned pieces. 

Khayam's creativity can influence these familiar audio patterns in a way that the audience would be psychologically stimulated internally at the beginning of every piece, and the continuation of the succession of sounds would result in the external manifestation of feelings. A piece named Bahar Street is an example of this fluid psychological explanation of his music, with its use of simple motifs at the beginning and the technical and rhythmic development  of it halfway through the piece, it presents the equal possibility for internal analysis and external expression to the audience. Furthermore, these simple and familiar motifs, which have been taken from background music, provide the audience with an intimate feeling and facilitate relating to the piece. Khayam is in fact, consciously or unconsciously, an adherent of post-modernistic tendencies in musical composition. 

Following the pattern discussed above, Khayam should be considered a minimalist as well, though he seems to be diverging from this path in his late works. The first signs of the formation of this new process in his composition can be observed in the album Thousand Acacias. In this album, the pieces are named sonnets (ghazal); sonnet 1, sonnet 2, etc., which point to the literary references of these pieces. This album consists of nine pieces and the composer has tried to arrange them close to one another with regard to their form. Khayam is more conservative in this work, and less expressive. Although the play with the conventional forms of classical music is sometimes heard and rhythm variation is among the dominant characteristics of his work, all the games of the composer are pre-designed, organised and unified and are heard as a cohesive literary work. 

Following Khayam's move towards more complex compositions and more lengthy pieces, he has composed a cello concerto in three movements in the album Strings, which is vastly different from his previous work. Generally, in this album we do not come across Khayam's sweet and familiar solo piano and we are dealing with a mature composer who intends to present more abstract music. In other words, he intends to discover new sounds through the combination of several different musical patterns and presents more developed compositions. In this album and in the cello concerto, the musical patterns borrowed from the Far East, in connection with Western classical music and fragments from background music create a more complex musical composition in comparison to the other works of the artist. The difficulty of understanding this album might not be pleasant for some and might decrease his regular audience numbers; it has however, attracted the attention of another spectrum of listeners. This concerto is a complete composition and promotes him from being a composer pianist to a dexterous composer in the creation of multi-movement, more complex works. 

In the end, it seems that, through his progress in diverging from existent clichés and approaching a more abstract expression with stronger composition, Khayam is going through a process which shall in the future yield valuable musical works in Iran.  


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