Nashville is home to nearly 15,000 Kurdish residents, a population bigger than any other city in the United States. Most have found refuge here, having fled wars and dictatorships since the 1970s. This vibrant community was one point of inspiration for Kelly Corcoran, artistic director of Nashville's contemporary chamber ensemble Intersection. This Friday and Saturday, Intersection will present "From the Ancient Valley," a program inspired by Kurdish and Persian culture.
The performance has been in the works for well over a year, when a composition by Richard Danielpour (who is also an artistic advisor to Intersection) brought several Iranian-born musicians to Corcoran's attention. And while the genesis of the concert predates the Trump administration's policies on immigration, the impact of the current political climate has been felt in both Nashville's Kurdish and music communities.
Danielpour's composition, which features Kurdish-Iranian musician Sohrab Pournazeri, was originally slated for Intersection's performance. The piece has since been removed as Pournazeri is unable to make the trip from Iran to the US due to current travel restrictions.
Corcoran hopes the music in "From the Ancient Valley" will reflect some of Nashville's diversity, as well as serve Intersection's main goal. "We want to expand and shift the perspective of audiences and musicians" she says, "and sometimes that can be achieved through a cultural lens."
Featured on the program are three works by composer and instrumentalist Shahab Paranj, including one piece so new that Paranj finished it just last month. A Must Dialogue presents a musical conversation between Western and Persian percussion instruments—with Paranj playing a Persian drum called a tombak— that is representative of a larger cultural dialogue.
Composer Reza Vali's Folk Songs, a work that explores Vali's take on Persian folk songs with diverse movements and unique tone colors, will be performed by acclaimed mezzo-soprano Janna Baty.
Audiences will get another perspective with American composer Henry Cowell's Persian Set, which hearkens back to an era when government-funded programs sent composers abroad for a musical and cultural exchange. Cowell traveled to Iran in 1956, and the resulting work is a musical portrait of a composer immersed in another culture.
A shortened, family-friendly performance is set for Saturday at Casa Azafrán, not far from Little Kurdistan in south Nashville. Visual art from local Kurdish artists will adorn the walls, and Corcoran is hopeful that some Glencliff High School students will stop by to perform traditional Kurdish dance.
"I think all the music is great," gushes Corcoran, "and likely something that audiences here have never heard before." And while she hopes listeners have a good time, she also emphasizes how this kind of musical experience can reverberate outside the concert hall: "As a conductor and musician, when I come to a score, it's an opportunity to try and understand the voice of the composer, to honor it and bring it forward and make space for it. That exercise is something we can all practice outside of music, too."