WASHINGTON — Alexander Rahbari fondly recalls his last stint conducting the Tehran Symphony Orchestra. It was the fall of 2005, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony was on the card, and the Iranian capital’s Vahdat Hall was packed.
“I conducted Beethoven’s Ninth in Tehran for seven nights. If I said I conducted the Ninth for seven nights in New York or Austria, I would be asked if there was anyone in the audience — after two nights the hall would be empty,” Rahbari said.
“But [in Tehran] it was full — so many people came. Later some newspapers complained that, after returning to Iran after so many years, I conducted the symphony for only seven nights.”
In 2012, the funding problems that Rahbari and his successors complained about silenced the Tehran Symphony Orchestra, whose roots dating back to the 1930s made it one of the oldest in the Middle East.
Meanwhile, Iran’s National Orchestra, founded by Iranian-born composer and conductor Farhad Fakhreddini in 1998, suffered similar difficulties. Fakhreddini himself resigned in 1999, and the orchestra that performed only classical Iranian music dissolved in October 2012.
The election of President Hassan Rohani in 2013 has provided a glimmer of hope for the country’s orchestra scene, however.
“I’m very sorry that the [Tehran] Symphony Orchestra and the National Orchestra have been shut down,” Rohani said in a January 8 speech to artists and cultural figures. “This government will revive them in the coming months.”
Iran’s culture minister, Ali Jannati, added to the optimism when he said at the Fajr International Music Festival last week that the government aims to strengthen music.