Farjad was born in the Iranian capital of Tehran in 1938 and picked up his first violin when he was only 4 years old. His teachers quickly became aware of his aptitude for the instrument, and Farjad never let go of the violin from that point on. He started his education in music, studying for his master's in classical music at the Tehran Music Conservatory, and then playing for years with the Tehran Symphony Orchestra. At this point, though, his violin still hadn't played his unparalleled music. In the meantime, his nation experienced an important revolution. Thinking about his future with music, and that he could never give it up, he decided to leave Iran. He headed for America at this point. But the experience of living abroad, away from his country, did not settle easily with Farjad. Longing for Iran prompted his "An Roozha" album, meaning "Those Days," in his 11th year away from Iran. He expressed his longing for his homeland with the words "I miss those days." As for the Iranian artist, he describes his country's revolution as a "flirtation with fate." And, no matter how much he misses "those days" from the past, he also says this: "These songs of melancholy emerged while I was abroad. And maybe if there had never been a revolution, you would have never heard these interpretations from me."
The Iranian violin virtuoso talked about his music, the reasons for his melancholy, his longing for his country and his plans for the future with Sunday's Zaman:
They call you "the man who makes the violin cry." What do you think about this description?
My music reflects my personal thoughts as well as our past as a society. In free and happy societies, the music tends to be faster, more joyful. I am, in a sense, separated from my homeland, in some sort of exile. And this has, of course, had quite an influence on my music. From now onwards, I am planning to do more active, faster music in my albums. But, as for the music on my "An Roozha" album, these are the feelings it reflects.
Yes, and you are associated with melancholy. Some of your fans say, "Farjad can make us sad even in our happiest moments." What is the source of this melancholy?
You are right. ... There is a lot of melancholy in my music. This is a result of being far from my homeland. With this music, I want to remind my people of certain things. I wanted to remind them that the old days were so much better. But this is just my style. If I play Beethoven or Mozart, my music takes a completely different form. The "An Roozha" series set out to remind people of "those days"; I guess it is my longing for the past that is the root of my melancholy.
So how were those "wonderful days of the past" that you wished to remind people of?
The music I interpret is the music of the past, music from before the revolution in Iran. I want to pull people to those days with this music, so that they too can remember. After the revolution, there was nothing done in our country in the name of music. So I really do want to pull my people back to those days. In those days, people were freer and happier.
Isn't it easier to express real melancholy with music that has words? It seems that you succeed at this expression even without words.
Iranians just love poetry. They love to express themselves in this way. It's true, though, there are some pieces that are more effective when you have a vocal soloist. But instrumental is the style I chose.
I showed that you can actually talk with a violin, and that you can use a violin to make poetry. One of my friends said the following to me: "This piece of music is one that singers have always put to music so beautifully. But you have brought it to life so much better." In other words, I speak to people with my violin.
Is melancholy more pervasive in the music of the East?
This has something to do with history. We have always lived with war. People have lived under various pressures. It is as though melancholy works better for us, it's as though this is the source for all this melancholy.
So, your first album came out when you were 51 years old? Isn't this a bit of a late career?
Actually, I started playing the violin at a very early age. I was in the Tehran Symphony Orchestra. In fact, I was the head violinist. I gave lessons there and was involved in various projects, but it was really in America that these latest projects emerged, with those feelings and thoughts.
If you hadn't gone abroad, maybe we wouldn't have heard these songs, isn't that right?
That's it. The revolution turned out really well for me! (laughing) Otherwise, I never would have gone to the US. And since I wouldn't have missed my country so much, I wouldn't have used my violin to search for "those old days." Separation from my country pushed me more strongly toward my violin, in order to reflect outwards my feelings and emotions. Anyway, there was nothing I could do about it, I had to leave Iran. They said at that time "no more music." I really miss my country and my people, but there's nothing I can do about it. Because my life is the violin. And I can't live anywhere where this is not possible. I cannot imagine a life without the violin. Of course, these statements of mine do not include the actual people of Iran, for they really love music. It was the regime that did not accept music.
At your concert at Middle East Technical University, you commented that in Turkey you breathed the air of your country. What have been your observations about Turkey?
I will absolutely be spending more time in Turkey after this. I have truly positive, wonderful impressions from here, whether we are talking about music or culture. When I arrived here, I immediately sensed the atmosphere of my country. Actually, Turkey is like my country. It was particularly wonderful to once again experience and feel autumn. In California, I never witnessed a real autumn. The season here really reminds me of the autumns in Iran. Taking a general look at Turkey, the people seem happy and positive. And here is something I want to say to the youth of the country in particular: You are so lucky to be living in such a wonderful country, in a democratic system. In the coming years, I would like to compose something for the Turkish people.
On your album, you interpret some Turkish folksongs, such as "Sarı Gelin" and "Ayrılık," which are very well loved in Turkey. Are there any of your fans here who say, "In terms of geography he is from Iran, but culturally, he is one of us"?
What a wonderful thing to hear. That makes me very happy. I am very saddened on one front though: why this all hasn't happened much earlier. I have made so many friends here. … I wish I had come much sooner. From now on, though, I will be playing many more pieces from Turkey. Because your music is very close to ours. Farsi and Turkish music are very similar. It is because our countries and our cultures are very close to one another.
How do you see yourself? Do you say to yourself, "I was created to play the violin"?
Actually, I believe I was created to make people happy. My music may make people melancholy, but it is truly important for me to see that they are happy when they see me. Even though I don't follow the general philosophy of Allah word by word, I do believe this: that whatever exists in this world is a gift from Allah. I should be thinking about the violin 24 hours a day. It is so crucial that people feel happy, even if they experience some melancholy with music. This is how the people from our area of the world are.
Is there a great deal of importance placed on classical music in the West? Have you ever thought you were unlucky to have been born in Iran?
If Mozart had been born in Iran or another Middle Eastern country, I believe the most he would have done was to play the flute on the street. And if I had been born and grown up in Germany, I bet I would have achieved more success at an earlier age. We in Iran have been able to adapt ourselves to music under much more trying circumstances.