For the Office of International Advisement’s May edition of Eye-on-Culture, Arash Noori (www.arashnoorimusic.com/) was interviewed. A graduate student in the historical performance program, Arash is a lutist/guitarist born in Tehran, Iran, who is now a Canadian citizen. Read on to learn more about Arash’s love of Monteverdi, his experience with Juilliard415, and the steps he is taking to be more health-conscious.
You are an accomplished guitarist/lutist. What are some of your first memories of these instruments?
My older brother of 5 years had begun taking piano lessons, when I was about two and a half/three years old, and it was at his teacher’s house that I had my first conscious encounter with the guitar. We had gone by to drop off (or pick up…I don’t remember) my brother for a lesson and there was guitar just laying around this teacher’s studio…and I just couldn’t help but to go over for a closer look. It was like a magnet; I went on over picked it and started strumming away. Luckily no one yelled at me to stop…I wonder if I would have become a musician if they had!
You have won many international competitions, and have been described as “the compelling guitarist” by the New York Times. What do you believe makes your music compelling? Can you tell us your secrets?
Hah. Well, the New York Times quote (https://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/14/arts/music/review-cantanta-profana-revives-a-henze-cycle-inspired-by-german-poems.html) comes from a review of a performance of Hans Werner Henze’s Kammermusik, a work that I had been wanting to perform for years. It’s a difficult piece to put together; difficult for all instruments of the chamber orchestra, nearly an hour long, with a devilishly difficult tenor part…it’s almost impossible to manage to put together within the confines of the “chamber music program” of even the finest music schools. I finally had a chance to perform the work with some of my closest friends and favorite musicians, the Cantata Profana Ensemble (www.cantataprofana.com/) and the remarked tenor Tom Cooley (www.thomascooley.com). So how is this for a recipe for a successful performance: find a work that you feel strongly about (kind of work that makes your creative and performance impulses fire on all cylinders), add years of anticipation and ruminating until you finally get a chance to perform it, and surround yourself with dear friends and amazing musicians to do so…and I think the odds are that the resulting performance will be pretty darn “compelling.”
You have completed degrees at Yale, and the University of Toronto. Can you tell about your shift from these institutions to Juilliard? Have you noticed any differences? My training at Juilliard has been by far the most focused—accumulating a ton of professional-level performance experience with world-class directors. By the time we’re through with hours of rehearsals, coachings and performances, gosh, there isn’t much time for anything else. My undergraduate experience at University of Toronto was a reasonably well-rounded liberal arts education with a concentration on music; I was a classical guitarist at Yale which meant a lot of independent practice time and a chance to take in as much as one can on the very special and lively campus. The Historical Performance program at Juilliard has definitely been the most intense training I’ve received.
Can you tell us more about why you decided to pursue a graduate degree in historical performance? I simply fell in love with lutes and early guitars…I mean obsessive. As well as the music that goes along with the instruments; particularly the music of Claudio Monteverdi is very close to my heart. He’s my desert-island composer for sure. I just had to pursue further my training in the field given my love for the music and the instruments and the HP program at Juilliard is the gold standard.
I’ve seen photos of Juilliard415 online, and it seems like everyone has a lot of fun traveling! What are some of your best experiences being part of this group?
Gosh, at the risk of sounding corny, I will say that every project we do is special; this is a special ensemble and an incredibly special program. But I must say that the “Genius of Monteverdi” program that we did under the direction of William Christie in October of 2017 will be the one that I’ll carry with me with vivid memories for a long time. Everything about the project was seemingly tailor-made for me to have an experience of lifetime: I’ve already mentioned my love for the music of Claudio Monteverdi, the repertoire selection—mainly from the 8th book of madrigals “Madrigals of War and Love”—and working with one of my favorite musicians on the planet, William Christie…this was just a dream come true. And to top it all off, Maestro Christie didn’t conduct the project but rather led from harpsichord, playing basso continuo. And as a basso continuo player on lute-family instruments , I got to play along with him. Without getting too technical about the process, it’s analogous to being in a “band”; it’s that kind of improvisatory music making where you have to be very aware of each other—being reactive and supportive to one another as well as whomever you’re accompanying (in this case, our wonderful singers from the vocal arts program)…when you get it right and are playing with expressive and communicative musicians, there is nothing quite like it. It’s fun, spontaneous, creative and exciting and I still really can’t believe that I got to do it with one of the best, ever, William Christie…you know, we were in a “continuo band” together 🙂
What are some things that many people may not know about you?
That I was raised in Iran until the age of 12. My Iranian/Canadian background is no secret but even some of my close friends forget that I was raised in in Iran until I was almost a teenager. I’m not quite sure why; I suspect it’s because of the absence of an accent, or rather the presence of a strong Canadian accent which people detect more readily than a Persian accent…I sound like I was born and raised in Saskatoon and only left yesterday, so people forget that I went through all of elementary school in Iran. I used to think that the Canadian accent is myth; I didn’t hear much of a difference in the way that I and my American friends talked, but having discovered the field of Historical Performance entirely in the United States as a graduate student, and having encountered certain words for the first time with an American accent, when I go home and I hear a Canadian HP colleague say “viola da gamba,” I say to myself “oh boy…there is a Canadian accent… and it’s strong!”
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Performing and teaching primarily the music of the 17th and 18th century; sharing the joy of everything that I think is so incredibly special about this repertoire.
I have heard that you have some strong opinions in regards to probiotics, can you share more with us?
Well, let me start by saying that I love being an instrumentalist—and that I love practicing as much as I do—but one realizes sooner or later that it’s not necessarily the healthiest lifestyle. And I was getting to a point where I was beginning feel the negative the health effects of being an instrumentalist at a high level and I made a choice to start being more health-conscious. And the only way that I could do this was to actually treat the matter as a hobby, rather than some thing that I “should do.” Chores are not sustainable with me, so I tried to have fun with it. And it’s an easy thing to do with all the good material that is now available online, from accomplished, accredited experts who choose to share a wealth of information on blogs and podcasts etc.; it’s really incredible. So it’s not that I’m following health “fads”; the people that I that I read and listen to are noted, published experts. It’s become very much so fun; I like keeping an eye out for information, “super foods” and recipes. Recently I’ve become interested in probiotics—simply put, beneficial bacteria that you carry in your gut that can help regulate and strengthen the immune system along with many other health benefits— and realizing that fermented foods are the best source of getting more of these probiotics inside you, I bought a fermentation kit and started making my own sauerkraut! I haven’t been brave enough to attempt kimchi yet but I’ll get there. It’s taken me a while to get any good at making sauerkraut itself; the first couple of batches were, well, not good! In any case, sauerkraut the side I’ve become so fond of this new passion/hobby and I genuinely enjoy doing it; it’s a nice break away from the profession of playing and practicing and it’s an enjoyable way of remedying some of the negative health effects of being a professional musician.