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Duluth orchestra debuts Iranian composer's piece

DULUTH — International collaboration is in the air in Duluth, where the Lake Superior Chamber Orchestra performed an original piece by a young Iranian composer this week.

The world premiere of "Kalileh," a classic Persian fable set to music by composer Hooshyar Khayam specifically for the orchestra, was performed Thursday with the help of a youth chorus. Another performance was scheduled for Friday.

Warren Friesen, conductor and artistic director of the Lake Superior Chamber Orchestra, discovered Khayam and his work last year, when he was searching for six more minutes of music for an upcoming concert.

"So I literally went into YouTube, and I put in 'piano and strings' and let's see what comes up," he recalled.

Thousands of pieces turned up, and he listened to snippets of dozens of them.


"I came across a piece called 'Stained Glass' by a composer I'd never heard of ... At this point I didn't even know that Hooshyar was living in Tehran. All I knew was that I liked his music," Friesen told Minnesota Public Radio News.

Friesen had the orchestra perform that piece last July, and a musical relationship between the orchestra's leader and the composer was born.

"I was very much moved by the extreme power of the musicians in the American orchestra, who could in fact play the Persian rhythms with that accuracy and that perfection," Khayam said.

After that performance, Khayam agreed to write a piece specifically for orchestra. The result of the partnership tells the story of a trickster character who seeks to gain power by becoming more beautiful.

Khayam came to Duluth to watch the performances, and said he hopes his music will transcend the tense political relationship between the U.S. and Iran.

"I am hopeful and am looking forward, as I have seen the artists here are looking forward, to a complete understanding and appreciation of each other's arts and culture," Khayam said.

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