Kimia Hesabi: Nemāno Gaona


Iranian violist Kimia Hesabi releases her debut album of music by composers of the Iranian Diaspora, featuring works for solo viola, viola and electronics, viola and voice, and viola and piano. The recording explores her passion for the music of her home country through a range of sounds, colors, stories, memories, and identities inspired in different and unique ways by Iran.


In the Avestan language of ancient Iran, “Nemāno Gaona” means “colors of home.” In collaboration with several composer colleagues, Kimia Hesabi brings together a debut album of works that are each uniquely inspired by her home country. As a collective these works represent various qualities from Iranian folk, classical, and contemporary music, and display a unique identity, sound, and story. These works showcase a musical language and performance practice that explore a mutual exchange between cultures. Despite the differences in background and compositional styles between the composers, they all examine a unique blend of Iranian music and Western art music characteristics, and in doing so allow performance practitioners of Western art music to explore a new musical language.

Song and Whispers was composed by Gity Razaz for Kimia Hesabi in 2019. Razaz explores two main ideas in this piece: a sound world created by pure atmospheric sounds, and the organic and original flavor of Iranian music. Song and Whispers comes from the relationship of the two sound worlds created by melodic components and atmospheric effects. Razaz envisions the atmospheric effect as “whisper,” with its soft, pitch-less quality, intense yet barely noticeable at the same time. On the other hand, she creates melodic components, resembling qualities of a “song”. The alternations between atmospheric sounds and melody create dramatic contrasts that imbue the piece with narrative intensity.

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Bahar Royaee’s Tombstone, explores colors that deviate greatly from idiomatic expectations for viola. Her compositions are a blend of timbral and sound-based atmospheric structures, interspersed with lyrical influences derived from her Iranian background. Tombstone is in three movements and based on a poem by Iranian poet, Yadollah Royaee, who has a collection of poems around the theme of death. Each poem in this collection is an imagination of a tombstone for a fictional or real person.

“A Tombstone for Simin:

... and I saw the “death” as a child,

running, exhaustedly, away

from the death.”

Variant and Sonata for Viola and Piano are both works by Alireza Mashayekhi, a pioneer in the avant-garde music of Iran. Hesabi was the first to perform this piece in 2019. The rhythmic structure of this work is created in part by experimenting with the concept of time. These rhythmic experiments in pacing and timing give the piece an improvisatory character which is influenced by Iranian classical music. In Variant, Mashayekhi incorporates flourishes that have an improvisatory character and stem from a simple motif. These motives bring to mind the concept of āvāz, which is an unmetered, modal vocal section in Iranian music. This piece displays a theme and variation form in which the variations grow in complexity, texture, dynamics, and drama.

Kamalto is a fine combination of Iranian musical characteristics and contemporary compositional techniques, as Tavakol explains that Kamalto is a combination of the two words, kamancheh and Alto (French for viola). The text in the first movement comes from the opening verses of the Mathnavi (a poem written in rhyming couplets) by Jalālad-Dīn Muhammad Balkhī, more widely known as Rumi. The musical sound of the Farsi poetry (transliterated into a Latin alphabet in the score) contributes to the meaning of the piece.

Veiled for viola and electronics was composed by Niloufar Nourbakhsh and inspired by two specific subjects: the hijab and the “veiled” presence of women in Iran. “The covered hair is a metaphor in general for women’s presence in the society…on the other hand, I used the meaning and concept of “veiled” in creating sounds from the instrument that “dissolve” or are “covered” in various ways”. In 2017, a series of protests known as the Girls of Enghelab Street (Revolution Street) movement took place against the compulsory hijab for women in Iran. Nourbakhsh recalls being moved by this event and the tragedy and violence it provoked, and was motivated to center Veiled on it.

Hani and Sheh Mureed is composed by Mozhgan Chahian in four movements, each depicting characters or tales from Balochi folklore. This ancient tale dating back to the 15th century, mirrors the life of Balochi heroes, and is a symbol of Balochistan’s philosophy and culture, displaying the tragic love story of Hani and Sheh Mureed. According to the story, Hani and Sheh Mureed were engaged to be married and became separated for almost 32 years due to Mir Chaker’s guile, who was the ruler at the time. Chahian was inspired by not only the tale of Hani and Sheh Mureed, but also by Balochi culture and music in general.

– Kimia Hesabi

Recording, editing, and mastering engineers:
Antonino d’Urzo, Opusrite (tracks 2,3,4,5-7, 8,13-15)
Emory Hensley (tracks 1, 9-12)
Album art by Emory Hensley

Kimia Hesabi

Dr. Kimia Hesabi is a violist and teaching artist based in the Washington D.C. area. Hesabi has recently presented a lecture-recital at the American Viola Society Festival, in June 2021 and her article titled “Viola Repertoire from the Iranian Diaspora” has been published by the Journal of the American Viola Society. An active chamber musician, Ms. Hesabi is the founder of Yasna Ensemble. This ensemble performs contemporary compositions and arrangements that are inspired by Middle Eastern classical and folk music. Hesabi has performed with several orchestras and ensembles in the Middle East such as the Tehran Symphony Orchestra, Iranian National Orchestra, and the Tehran Philharmonic, and is an active performer in the USA as both a concert violist, and chamber musician. In her DMA dissertation project, “Viola from Iran: Continuing and Expanding the Trajectory of a Rich Cultural History,” Ms. Hesabi has performed, researched, and recorded an album of several commissioned and premiered works for viola by composers from the Iranian Diaspora.

In addition to performing, Hesabi is an active teacher and clinician in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area and is currently on the string faculty at the International School of Music in Bethesda, Maryland. Recent clinics include a workshop, masterclass and performance at the American University, Katzen Art Center as well as appearing as guest lecturer at University of Maryland,Towson University, and Lebanon Valley College. She is also a co-founder of LyreIran, a collaborative focusing on promoting strings performance and education by hosting and organizing workshops, master classes, and educational videos for students around the world who seek affordable and easily accessible educational content. As a leadership committee of District New Music Coalition, Ms. Hesabi works with DNMC to promote the performance and appreciation of contemporary music by connecting performers, composers, institutions, and audiences located in the Washington, D.C. area through concerts, conferences, and active community building. Ms. Hesabi is the recipient of the prestigious Thomas Fellowship from the University of Tennessee and the Dean’s Fellowship for Academic Excellence from the University of Maryland.

Gity Razaz

Hailed by the New York Times as “ravishing and engulfing,” Gity Razaz’s music ranges from concert solo pieces to large symphonic works. Ms. Razaz’s music has been commissioned and performed by BBC Symphony Orchestra, Seattle Symphony, Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, Washington National Opera, National Sawdust, Philadelphia Chamber Music Society, former cellist of the Kronos Quartet Jeffrey Zeigler, cellist Inbal Segev, violinist Jennifer Koh, violinist Francesca dePasquale, Metropolis Ensemble, Canada’s National Ballet School, American Composers Orchestra, and Amsterdam Cello Biennale among others.

Programming highlights include a 2021 commission from BBC Symphony Orchestra for the prestigious Last Night of the BBC Proms at London’s Royal Albert Hall and an upcoming concerto for world-renowned flutist Sharon Bezaly and the United Strings of Europe. Other commissions have included a full-length ballet for Ballet Moscow, which has received regular performances ever since its world premiere in Moscow in June of 2017. She was the composer-in-residence for the inaugural season of Brooklyn’s ground-breaking National Sawdust and Chautauqua Opera Company in 2017. Her first short opera was commissioned by Washington National Opera and premiered at the Kennedy Center. Her music for cello and electronics was included in the opening of Seattle Symphony’s Octave 9 in March 2019.

Her compositions have earned numerous national and international awards, such as the 2019 Andrew Imbrie Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters that is “is given to a composer of demonstrated artistic merit in mid-career”, the Jerome Foundation award, the Libby Larsen Prize in 28th International Search for New Music Competition, the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra Composer Institute, Juilliard Composers’ Orchestra Competition, three ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer awards, to name a few. In 2016, Ms. Razaz was offered the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans.

Ms. Razaz attended The Juilliard School on full scholarship, studying under the tutelage of Samuel Adler, Robert Beaser, and John Corigliano.

Alireza Mashayekhi

Alireza Mashayekhi is regarded as a pioneer Iranian avant-garde composer whose ideas and works, which have been performed in Iran and abroad for more than 35 years, have greatly influenced the contemporary music in Iran. He was born in 1940 in Tehran and began learning Persian music under Lotfollah Mofakham-Payan, studied composition with Hossein Nasehi and the piano under Ophelia Kombajian. He continued his studies in composition in Vienna under Hanns Jelinek and Karl Schiske. His acquaintance with Hanns Jelinek encouraged him to explore a wide spectrum of 20th century music. Such explorations accompanied by his deep interest in Iranian culture were the cornerstones of his artistic and stylistic development. Having completed his studies at the Akademie für Musik und Darstellende Kunst in Vienna, he went to Utrecht, the Netherlands, to pursue his further study in electronic and computer music, which also included attending lectures by Gottfried Michael König.

In 1993, along with pianist Farima Ghavam-Sadri, Mashayekhi founded the Tehran Contemporary Music Group. In 1995 he established the Iranian Orchestra for New Music, which released its first recording in 2002 on Hermes Records. Mashayekhi's music circulates between a range of styles and genres, from classical compositions inspired by Persian rhythms and Iranian folk music that incorporate meditated repetition and polyphony, to atonal compositions, to works for tape and live electronics that combine traditional Iranian and Western instruments.

Mashayekhi calls his compositional practice "Meta-X," referring to the sonic multiplicities present in his work (as contradictions of tonal/atonal, improvised/pre-defined, Persian/non-Persian) that unify within a single musical piece.

Mashayekhi is an author of several books and has been teaching composition at the Music

Department of the University of Tehran, Faculty of Fine Arts, since 1970.

Showan Tavakol

Showan Tavakol is a versatile musician, Canadian-Iranian composer, born in Tehran (1979). His works have been performed in concert in Europe, Asia and North America, and he has also written music for the cinema, notably for the film Manuscripts Don’t Burn (Mohammad Rasoulof), which was presented at the Cannes Film Festival in 2013. As a performer, he has appeared as the soloist for several of his compositions, including the Concerto pour kamancheh and orchestra symphonique, which was acclaimed by the jury of the Fajr International Music Festival. Heterotopia, his piece for Kamancheh and orchestra, was performed in Montreal by the Nouvel Ensemble Moderne (The NEM) with the composer as soloist. he has also participated in the recording of three albums of his musical works (in Iran and Germany): "On trolley of time", "Parallax view","Suge sarv" and also his co-composition album ”Echo of the mountains" published by Analekta in Canada,. Showan holds a bachelor’s degree in music and a master’s degree in kamancheh performance from Tehran University. Driven by an interest in ethnomusicology and composition for world music, he has also taken courses leading to the development of expertise in the traditional instruments of a variety of cultures. He also obtained a master’s degree in composition from the University of Mon in Québec where he is currently a doctoral candidate of music composition. he is also member of SOCAN, Canadian league of composers and professor of kamancheh and violin at world music center in Montreal. In 2019, Showan won second prize in composition in the Prix collégien de musique contemporaine (Québec), and third prize in composition at the Classic Pure Vienna International Music Competition (Austria), Lauréat du concours de composition de l’OUM, 2021 et Bourse d’études Superior Perra, cholette, 2021.

Bahar Royaee

Born and raised in Iran, Bahar Royaee is a music educator and a composer/sound designer who works within the field of concert music and various media arts.The Boston Arts Review praised Bahar’s “haunting sound design” in her work with live theatre.

Bahar's work has been performed at prominent events such as the Time:Spans 2020 Festival and the 2020 Fromm Foundation Composer Conference, 2022 Tehran Electroacoustic Music Festival, and has won awards such as the Pnea Award, the Roger Session Memorial Composition Award, and the Korourian electroacoustic music award. Bahar, has worked with Claire Chase, Suzzane Farrin, International Contemporary Ensemble, Loadbang, Composer Conference Ensemble, Contemporary Insights of Leipzig, Ensemble der gelbe Klang, Guerrilla Opera, Longleash, Mazumal, Kimia Hesabi, Splice Ensemble, to name a few.

She is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in music composition from City University of New York.

Niloufar Nourbakhsh

Described as “stark” by WNPR and “darkly lyrical” by the New York Times, a winner of the Second International Hildegard commission award, a 2019 recipient of Opera America’s Discovery Grant, and a finalist for Beth Morrison Projects Next Generation competition, Niloufar Nourbakhsh’s music has been commissioned and performed by Nashville Symphony Orchestra, International Contemporary Ensemble, Library of Congress, Shriver Hall Series, Cheswatyr Foundation, I-Park Foundation, National Sawdust, Center for Contemporary Opera, Women Composers Festival of Hartford, Forward Music Project, PUBLIQuartet, Ensemble Connect, Akropolis Reed Quintet, and Calidore Quartet at numerous festivals and venues including Carnegie Hall, and Washington Kennedy Center, Mostly Mozart Festival, Seal Bay Festival of American Chamber Music, and many more. A founding member and co-director of Iranian Female Composers Association, Niloufar is a strong advocate for music education and equal opportunities. In 2014, she worked as the site coordinator of Brooklyn Middle School Jazz Academy sponsored by Jazz at Lincoln Center. She is currently an adjunct faculty at Molloy College and co-director of Peabody Conservatory Laptop Orchestra. She also regularly performs with her Ensemble Decipher.

Niloufar is a music graduate and a Global Citizen Scholarship recipient of Goucher College as well as a Mahoney and Caplan Scholar from University of Oxford. Among her teachers are Lisa Weiss, Laura Kaminsky, Matthew Barnson, Margaret Schedel, Daniel Weymouth, Daria Semegen, and Sheila Silver. She holds a doctorate degree from Stony Brook University.

Mozhgan Chahian

Mozhgan Chahian is a composer, singer, folk music researcher, and Santoor player. She is MA graduate in composition (Tehran University of Art) and her thesis was chosen as the best composition thesis. She achieved the first rank in her BA and MA (Iranian Musical Performance and Composition respectively) both from Tehran University of Art and her diploma in Music School. In 2018, she was invited to teach as a lecturer at Tehran University of Art, Music Faculty, Iran. She got “Kamalolmolk” award as the talented artist from National Elites Foundation, 2022, Iran. Special Orchestra Prize was awarded to her for her piece “Hoordokht” for Mezzo-soprano and Orchestra in International Women Composers Competition, Fem Festival, 2021, Italy. Her piece “Hoordokht” was selected in AMAT International Composition Competition and was performed by Symphonic Orchestra, 2021, Florence, Italy. Her book entitled “Investigating and analyzing the vocal techniques of Lo and Haraee Moqams” was published in 2021, Tehran, Iran. She won the First Prize in National 3MT Competition (Three Minutes Thesis), 2019, Tehran, Iran. She won the First Prize in the 24th International Composition Competition “2 Agosto” and her piece “Elegy for Peace” was performed by Toscanini Orchestra, 2018, Bologna, Italy. Her article entitled “Investigating and analyzing the vocal techniques of Lo and Haraee Moqams” was published in 2017, Zangar press, Iran. She won the First Prize in playing Santoor in Music Schools Competition, 2007, Tehran, Iran. She won and was invited to cooperate, compose, sing, perform and do research in various competitions, festivals, and projects including 22nd Festival Duni, 2021 (Italy), 46th Cantiere Internazionale d'Arte, 2021 (Italy), Solo for Viola, 2021 (USA), Solo for Double Bass, 2020 (Italy), 44th Cantiere Internazionale d'Arte, 2019 (Italy), Vancouver Iranian Choir, 2019 (Canada), 12th Iranian Folk Music Festival, 2019, (Iran), 7th Festival of Music Weblogs and Websites, 2019, (Iran), ACIMC International Contemporary Composition Competition, 2018 (France), 3rd Tehran International Contemporary Music Festival, 2018 (Iran), holding the 2nd professional Iranian Folk Music Workshops, Tehran University of Art, 2018, (Iran), 2nd Tehran International Contemporary Music Festival, 2017 (Iran), holding the 1st professional Iranian Folk Music Workshops, Tehran University of Art, 2017 (Iran) and Bastami Music Festival, 2015 (Iran). She also has cooperated in concerts and albums as a singer such as Mediterranean Opera (Italy), Hafez Opera concert and music album (Iran), Goriz music album (Iran), Narration music album (Iran), Singing in Shadow music album, “Voix De L’ombre”, (France), In the Distance a Call music album (Iran), 29th Fajr International Music Festival (Iran), Nobahar music track (Iran), Atashe Del concert (Iran), Morqe Shabahang concert (Iran) and Shekve concert (Iran). Her documentary entitled "Faryad-e Kouhestan" about her research in Nortern Khorasan folk music was published in 2016, Iran.



Bandcamp Best of Contemporary Classical — June 2022

This invaluable new collection from Iranian violist and scholar Kimia Hesabi—who founded Yasna Ensemble and currently lives and teaches in Washington, D.C.—offers a sharp look at recent contemporary music from her homeland, along with a 1960s piece from veteran composer Alireza Mashayekhi that she premiered in 2019. Fittingly, the title of the collection means “colors of home” in the ancient Iranian language Avestan. Numerous pieces draw upon traditional Iranian music, such as the opening work “Song and Whispers” by Gity Razaz, which toggles between brittle melodies one might expect to be played on the kamancheh, the Persian spike fiddle, and—as the title indicates—whispery harmonics. Mashayekhi’s “Variant op. 139, no. 2” creates an improvisatory vibe from an uncomplicated motif, suggesting the sort of thematic development used in an āvāz, an unmetered modal vocal passage in traditional Persian music. On the other hand, “Veiled” by Niloufar Nourbakhsh eschews musical connections to Iran and instead twines titular meaning to reflect on the 2017 Tehran protests by Girls of Enghelab Street (Revolution Street) against the mandatory use of the hijab, while the electronics in the piece veil the natural sound of the viola. The album is as multi-faceted and complex as the culture of the country that inspired it.

— Peter Margasak, 6.30.2022



Even more rarefied and self-limited, despite its good intentions, is a New Focus Recordings CD featuring viola works by Iranian composers, performed by Kimia Hesabi either alone or in partnership with voice, a second instrument, or electronics. Although this CD could certainly be used to introduce contemporary Iranian music to new listeners, it is more realistic to feel that it is aimed at an audience already familiar with the Iranian diaspora and at least some of the composers represented here. The works certainly have an up-to-date sound, but the extent to which they are reflective of Iran, past or present, is unlikely to be generally clear to listeners. Songs and Whispers by Gity Razaz, written for Hesabi, tries to juxtapose typical modern string sounds – lots of harmonics, tremolos, etc. – with snippets of melody tied to Iran. Two works by Alireza Mashayekhi, Variant and Sonata for Viola and Piano, are of roughly the same length even though the first is in one movement and the second in three. Variant actually has some of the familiar sound of Western classical music. The sonata, in which Hesabi is joined by pianist Ying-Shan Su, seems more self-consciously avant-garde in technique – for instance, in a middle movement largely consisting of plucked and struck individual notes separated by silence, and a finale whose extensions of viola sounds seem designed to showcase ways in which the instrument can lose its usual warmth, while the piano pounds away atonally. Kamalto, a work by Showan Tavakol, features Hesabi with mezzo-soprano Lori Şen, and uses words by the poet Rumi in a cadence that does have an Iranian sound to it; but the viola’s skittering, irregular rhythms bear no clear relationship to those words. The solo-viola work Tombstone by Bahar Royaee is another piece that wants the viola to sound like something other than a viola: everything is extended range and modified technique, the sound often unpleasant – perhaps a reflection of the work being based on a poem about Death, but even if so, that is not something of which most audiences would be cognizant. Veiled by Niloufar Nourbakhsh is an extended piece for viola and electronics with a specific sociopolitical point to make: it is a reaction to a series of protests by Iranian women in 2017 against the compulsory hijab. Listeners who know of those events may find ways to connect the sounds heard here with the violence to which the protests led, but this is scarcely a general-interest piece. Hani and Sheh Mureed takes its title from 15th-century folklore: composer Mozhgan Chahian’s music is more textured and lyrical than most on this disc, as Chahian recounts and interprets a story of lovers separated for three decades by a corrupt ruler. How well the music reflects and underlines the material, however, will be clear only to those well-versed in the culture and history of Belochistan, from which the tale is taken. Hesabi’s sincere dedication to all this music is apparent in her finely nuanced playing, but the fact remains that this is very narrowly focused material that will be of interest only to a very small slice of any potential audience.


Take Effect Reviews

The Iranian violist Kimia Hesabi offers us a debut album of tracks by Iranian Diaspora composers, where voice, electronics, and viola explore a wide expanse of sounds, colors, stories, memories and identities that stem from the distinct and unique ways by Iran.

Gity Razaz’s Song And Whispers opens the listen with much atmosphere, as the carefully manipulated strings are both soft and intense and with a unique melody, and Variant op. 139, no. 2, by Alireza Mashayekhi, follows with the strategically bowed strings emitting a rich and introspective tone.

In the middle, Niloufar Nourbakhsh’s Veiled relies heavily on the swirling electronics and stirring viola for an intimate landscape, while Mozhgan Chahian’s Hani And Sheh Mureed lands in Balochi Folklore for the poetic strings that you can’t help but admire.

Mashayekhi’s work appears again at the end, where Ying-Shan Su’ piano illuminates Sonata For Viola And Piano, which can rumble with mystery and also find fuller places to reside.

A very cultured listen that explores folk, classical and contemporary music of Iranian culture, Hesabi’s musical language is one that’s fascinating, authentic and timeless.

— Tom Haugen, 11.06.2022

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