ICOT photo2
ICOT’S five founding composers Maziar Heidari, Saman Shahi, Afarin Mansouri Tehrani, Keyan Emami & Pouya Hamidi.

A myriad of cultures collide in A Canadian Mosaic on May 15. Guest artists, The Iranian-Canadian Composers of Toronto (ICOT), will present a unique selection of Persian piano music that has brought the group to critical acclaim.

Persian piano music is a unique genre, as Saman Shahi, a composer in the ICOT collective, tells us, and one of its unique features is the use of quarter tones on a piano. When the piano was originally brought to Persia in the 1800s, Persian musicians tried to achieve this characteristic folk sound through the re-tuning of western pianos to suit the Persian mode. In the last hundred years, composers have refrained from this practice because of the difficultly in tuning pianos back to their original state.

So how does ICOT achieve that uniquely Persian sound? Saman explains that Iranian composers “are writing in more Western ways for the instrument. We’re inspired by the classical music we heard growing up and classical music of the last 200 years. There’s a combination of conscious and subconscious levels of clear Iranian tendencies within the melody and the way the music unfolds. The music sounds Iranian but not in an imposing way.”

ICOT was formed by five Iranian-Canadian composers living in Toronto. Their Persian Piano Night concert series in 2011 was the group’s first exposure to the public. As a tour of four Canadian cities, it gave them an opportunity to showcase compositions written by members of their collective as well as music by well-known Iranian composers. They’ve been featured on BBC Farsi’s Maks program and presented the concert New Poetry, New Music which includes compositions from all five composers that are inspired by contemporary Persian poems.

One of the pieces ICOT will perform on May 15 is Journey Inward, which is a contemporary piece that incorporates the use of three pianists playing on the same piano. “there’s lots of music written for four hands in Western classical music, but not for six hands,” says Shahi. “It provides more resources for doing interesting things.”

Having multiple players at the piano creates a bold sound and allows for all aspects of the piano to be used, including its interior strings. A Canadian Mosaic, presented on May 15 at Christ’s Church Cathedral, will also feature the works of Israeli-Greek-, Serbian- and Spanish-Canadian composers.

Here’s a glimpse of Journey Inward which will be performed by ICOT on May 15: