x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

The music stops in Iran

The Tehran Symphony has become, sadly, a victim of a quarrel that has nothing to do with music.

The Tehran Symphony Orchestra survived for more than 30 years after the Shah Mohammed Reza fled the country in 1979. But now the ensemble, too, has been deposed.

Founded in 1933, the orchestra, poorly funded and at times an object of suspicion, has been dissolved. Musicians told the semi-official news agency IRNA that they had not rehearsed, or been paid, for months. Even when they were being paid on time, most of the players needed outside jobs to make ends meet.

The orchestra has often been in trouble since the revolution, as a vestige of the Shah's days, and as a thorn in the side of some hardline Islamists. And yet it endured, somehow, until two years ago, when it was put into a sort of suspended animation, from which it was revived in 2011.

It is impossible to say quite what killed it. As Iran's economy creaks and groans under western economic sanctions, private patrons and state agencies alike have devoted available funds to other priorities. There is also speculation that pressure from hardliners sounded the final note.

And yet, the orchestra's last performance was to play the national anthem at the Non-Aligned Movement summit in August. The orchestra had a part in Iran's social and cultural life, an unfortunate casualty in a nuclear standoff that has nothing at all to do with music.