OEBS Performs Manteq at-Tayr

On March 18, 2011, Maestro Michael Morgan and The Oakland East Bay Symphony closed their Persian New Year concert at the Paramount Theater with Omid’s orchestral composition Manteq at-Tayr (Language of the Birds).  The work, originally commissioned by the Oakland Youth Orchestra, featured Omid’s brother Amin Zoufonoun playing the kamancheh (Persian spike fiddle).   With over 2000 people in attendance, the concert brought together both Persians and non-Persians for a special evening of music and cultural unity.  VOA covered the event and conducted interviews with Omid, Maestro Morgan, and the evening’s four soloists, Amin Zoufonoun, Tara Kamangar, Cyrus Beroukhim, and Joey Amini.

[youtube width=”420″ height=”315″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O2nzu9bi22E[/youtube]


“Upon hearing ‘Language of the Birds’, I connected deeply with it’s tonality and rhythms. Haunting and magical come to mind as easily as musical and original. This is music which is satisfying to the human spirit”.
–Dan Reiter
Principal Cello, Oakland East Bay Symphony


“Omid Zoufounoun’s music speaks with a direct and appealing voice. He combines the traditions of Western and Eastern classical music in a very compelling way; his piece is well written, really enjoyable to play, and made a strong emotional impression on both the orchestra and the audience.”
–Terrie Baune
Co-concertmaster, Oakland East Bay Symphony


Omid Zoufonoun’s Program Notes for the Premier:

When I first came across the poem, Manteq at-Tayr (Language of the Birds), by the 12th century Persian poet Attar, I was struck by the number of musical ideas that it immediately inspired.  In his epic allegory, the various birds of the world set forth in search of their king, Simorgh (Phoenix). Their quest takes them through seven valleys. My piece distills the essential themes and lessons from these valleys into four musical movements.

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The first movement (The Valley of the Quest) begins with a recurring six-note motive in the celli. This theme, representing the birds and their longing for fulfillment, undergoes many transformations as it is appears in all four movements. After an introduction that sets the tone for the ominous and challenging path that lay ahead, the movement begins a series of rhythmically terse and frenetically shifting musical gestures. The main theme from the poem that is explored here is the notion of undergoing a great many trials in order to free oneself. As the movement closes, the birds who have endured the travails are greeted by both radiant light as well as a deep sense of exhaustion.
The second movement (The Nightingale: The Pain of Lovers, Note by Note) is a slow movement that explores the spiritual longing of the birds for the attainment of Simorgh. Here the wind instruments represent the birds, each in turn wailing its plaintive song. Accordingly, Attar writes, “Dear Nightingale, from your sweet throat, pour out the pain of lovers, note by note.” The movement ends with a dissolution of the opening cello theme, played in canon by harp, celeste, violin solo, and glockenspiel.
In most spiritual traditions there is an emphasis on the private journey of the soul. In the opening lines of his poem, Attar says, “Rejoice in that close, undisturbed dark air – the prophet will be your companion there.” In order to capture this more intimate and inward aspect of the journey, I have set the third movement in the Persian mode of Tchahargah, a scale that conveys a great sense of mystery and awe. In addition, sustained static chords in the strings give a sense of vast space, while the intimacy of the individual’s inward journey is evoked by a soloist improvising on a traditional Persian instrument.
The fourth movement is based on alternations between an ecstatic dance for the attainment of Simorgh, as well as an ever increasing fear and doubt about failing in the quest. The clarinet begins a playful theme following several loud interruptions of the soloist by the lower strings. After an interlude that features conversational improvisations between the orchestra and soloist, the movement rushes to a radiant and ecstatic close celebrating the fulfillment of the quest.
While the basic themes of Attar’s poem are universal, I was especially excited to compose this music for the members of the Oakland Youth Orchestra. There are many parallels between the journey that the birds undertake and the path of a classical instrumentalist. Indeed, anyone who sets out to master the violin, French horn, or any orchestral instrument for that matter, must cross a series of valleys, both deeply rewarding as well as uncompromisingly challenging. I am greatly indebted to the staff and members of OYO, to their conductor Bryan Nies, and especially to Maestro Michael Morgan for supporting this cross-cultural collaboration.


SF Gate Article: Composer Puts Persian Twist on classical

By: Tamara Straus (March 17, 2011)

Omid Zoufonoun does not remember Persian New Year celebrations in his native Tehran. He left Iran when he was just 2. But he grew up surrounded by Persian music, celebratory and somber, as his father, Ostad Mahmoud Zoufonoun, is a master musician whose Bay Area home was an epicenter for local and traveling Persian musicians. Now 36, Omid is coming back to his musical roots after more than a decade studying classical music at the University of Southern California and the Vienna Conservatory and performing cello and classical guitar in a decidedly Western vein. His four-movement work “Manteq at-Tayr” (Language of the Birds) is not only based on Persian literature – an allegory by the 12th century Sufi poet Attar – its third movement is, as Omid puts it, “very authentically set in Persian musical modes.”

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