ShareThis Page

Pittsburgh pair plans rare trip to Iran for American classical musicians

Tom Fontaine
| Sunday, April 19, 2015, 10:30 p.m.
Iranian-born composer Reza Vali, a Carnegie Mellon University music professor, will travel to Iran with the Carpe Diem String Quartet of Ohio for the Fajr International Music Festival in February 2016.
Andrew Russell | Trib Total Media
Iranian-born composer Reza Vali, a Carnegie Mellon University music professor, will travel to Iran with the Carpe Diem String Quartet of Ohio for the Fajr International Music Festival in February 2016.

A composer and nonprofit leader from Pittsburgh have brokered a deal to send American classical musicians to Tehran for the first time since the Iranian Revolution.

The plans for cultural diplomacy were announced as leaders from the United States and other world powers prepare to resume talks this week with Iran on its nuclear program. An agreement that aims to ensure the program does not have military applications could result in Western sanctions being lifted.

“Opening up the cultural interaction between two nations whose governments have been at odds for so long can be a window to hope and peace,” said Iranian-born composer Reza Vali, a Carnegie Mellon University music professor.

Vali and Simin Yazdgerdi Curtis, president and CEO of the Pittsburgh-based American Middle East Institute, said they will travel to Iran with the Carpe Diem String Quartet of Ohio for the Fajr International Music Festival in February.

“This is really a historic deal,” Curtis said.

Vali and Curtis said they began discussing the possibility with Iranian officials in October when a delegation visited Pittsburgh, including Farzin Piroozpay of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance. The sides reached a tentative deal last week.

In addition to performing on its own, Carpe Diem is expected to play with the recently restored Tehran Symphony Orchestra.

The string quartet will perform some of Vali's compositions from his Calligraphy collection. He said the compositions use the modal system found in traditional Persian music.

Ali Alfoneh, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said the American delegation might play another role.

“For Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, cultural diplomacy is a one-way road,” Alfoneh said, referring to Khamenei's past warnings of a cultural invasion from the West and his attempts to suppress it.

“The American composer and the ensemble are therefore likely to find themselves as propaganda tools in the hands of Ayatollah Khamenei rather than representatives of artistic freedom,” Alfoneh said.

Nancy Condee, director of the University of Pittsburgh's Global Studies Center, embraced the planned trip.

“Culture can very often occupy this space of not particularly caring about politics and doing a different kind of communication that has value,” Condee said. “It's able to connect with people and communicate across borders more easily, and it can affect people in very unpredictable ways.”

The accord reached last week by Vali and Curtis follows a visit by Grammy Award-winning jazz performer Bob Belden and his group, Animation, to the annual Fajr festival early this year. It marked the first time that American musicians of any genre performed in Iran since the revolution in 1979.

Curtis tried to arrange an Iranian trip last year for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of its last performance in Iran. Logistical problems derailed the plan.

Tom Fontaine is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7847 or

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.

click me