Shahab Paranj to Join School of Music as Post-Doctoral Scholar

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This spring, composer and instrumentalist Shahab Paranj has joined The UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music as Postdoctoral Scholar of Iranian music. He holds degrees from UCLA, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and the Manhattan School of Music. A trio of events heralds his arrival—a concert of contemporary and classical Persian music on Sunday, May 21, a pre-concert discussion of the influence of Persian instruments on modern compositions on Friday, May 19, and a follow-up panel discussing non-Eurocentric approaches to musical composition on Monday, May 22.

Paranj’s appointment bolsters the School of Music’s minor in Iranian music, and builds upon UCLA’s already robust Iranian studies programs, including the nation’s largest doctoral program in ethnomusicology. Paranj will teach courses in three departments or areas in the school: the departments of music, music industry, and ethnomusicology. The School of Music has offered a Music of Persia Ensemble for academic credit for some time, and Paranj’s work with this ensemble further solidifies the school’s commitment to Iranian music.

“My aim is to preserve and rejuvenate Iran’s vibrant musical heritage by teaching it and promoting it in a manner that honors its essence,” said Paranj. “I hope to offer new pespectives, beyond what is typically presented, to enhance Iranian music’s cultural significance.”

Shahab Paranj, conducting (Photo courtesy of Farhang Foundation)

“We are excited to have this opportunity to hire this scholar and musician of Iranian music,” said Eileen L. Strempel, the inaugural dean of the School of Music. “Our Iranian Music Program continues to use the rich cultural and musical heritage of Iran to build connections locally and internationally. We are grateful for our partnership with Farhang Foundation; their support has made so much possible.”

Iranian-born Paranj has composed in a number of different genres, including opera, chamber music, solo pieces, and film scores. His work combines elements of both Persian and European composition techniques. He has been commissioned by the Russian String Orchestra, the Long Beach Opera, and the San Francisco New Music Ensemble and Sopraduo. Paranj is also an instrumentalist, and is renowned as a tombak virtuoso. He performs and records internationally. 

On Sunday, May 21 at 8:00 p.m. in Schoenberg Hall, the School of Music will host a concert of Iranian music curated by Shahab Paranj. The concert will feature both traditional Persian classical music and improvisation, and contemporary pieces written by Richard Danielpour, Reza Vali, and Ian Krouse. Music will be performed by Paranj, Sohrab Pournazeri, Pejman Hadadi, and the Iranshahr String Quartet. 

“It is important to celebrate traditional Persian music, but to also remember that Iranian music is very much alive and thriving,” said Paranj. “I have curated a concert that brings together these different elements. I am deeply grateful to Farhang Foundation and to Dean Strempel for their support in making this concert possible.”

A pre-concert event on Friday, May 19, at 1 p.m. will feature a panel discussion of the influence of Persian instruments on composers working today. The panel features School of Music faculty composers Richard Danielpour, Ian Krouse, and Shahab Paranj, as well as Reza Vali from Carnegie Mellon University, composers who have all incorporated Persian instruments into their string quartet compositions.

On Monday, May 22, Paranj will host a panel to discuss contemporary composition from a non-Eurocentric perspective. Featuring Erberk Erylmaz from Ankara Music and Fine Arts University and Reza Vali from Carnegie Mellon University to explore the ways in which traditional Turkish and Persian music enhance the creative process of contemporary composers. 

“I am excited to have these experts on hand to discuss the special forms, scales, modes, rhythms, and other components that define Turkish and Persian music and how they can be adapted to create new works,” said Paranj. “We will also delve into complex issues about authenticity and cultural appropriation. It is important to understand the intricacies and sensitivities of cultural exchange.” 

A group of student musicians called the Music of Persia ensemble performs on stage
UCLA Persian Music Ensemble (Photo by Supeena Adler)

Paranj’s appointment is supported by a gift from Farhang Foundation, which has donated $1 million for the purpose of establishing the Iranian Music Minor. A non-profit whose mission is to promote Iranian arts and culture, Farhang Foundation enjoys a longstanding relationship with UCLA. In addition to their support for Iranian music, they have been long supporters of the UCLA Film & Television Archive’s annual UCLA Celebration of Iranian Cinema

“There is a great desire, especially among second-generation Iranians, to learn about Iranian music and culture,” said Alireza Ardekani, Executive Director of Farhang Foundation. “Southern California has a vibrant Iranian community, and Farhang Foundation is delighted to continue our support of an amazing and transformative partnership with the Herb Alpert School of Music.”