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Western Music in Tehran

"A German orchestra will play Beethoven and Brahms in Tehran in a rare visit by a European ensemble amid tension between Iran and the West," writes The Washington Post:

The 60-member Osnabrueck Symphony Orchestra led by conductor Hermann Baeumer will perform Wednesday and Thursday as part of an exchange that saw the Tehran Symphony Orchestra perform to a packed hall last year in Osnabrueck. (...)
Some hard-line clerics say music comes between the faithful, and God and leads to impure thoughts, therefore being incompatible with the Shiite school of Islam that rules Iran. Secular songs were banned as un-Islamic, and in the early 1980s, police stopped cars to check tape decks and smashed offending tapes. In the 1990s, music gradually made a comeback in Iran under the then reformist president, Mohammad Khatami. Then in December 2005, the hard-line government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced a ban on Western music on state radio and television.

Do you approve of the German orchestra's concert as some contribution to possible change in Iran or do you disapprove because Iran should be isolated at this point because of its current policies and because musical exchanges won't lead to change anyway?


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SC on :

Goodness, Joerg. Must I consider the dichotomy you pose? While I don't believe that exchanges of performing ensembles have ever made an appreciable difference in relations between nations, they can however reflect an ongoing dynamic, seen or not, that both sides already desire. Then again, often times an exchange is just an exchange. That being said, I'm all for sending the best in Western musical tradition to any corner of the globe where there is a demand for it.

Joerg - Atlantic Review on :

Yeah, I know. Damn dichotomy. I just thought this question reflects US and German approaches. To generalize and simplify: Mainstream opinion in Germany is pretty much that every conflict in the world can be solved by exchanges of all sorts and talking and negotiating. Just be nice and open and have exchanges and then you get mutual understanding, peace, sunshine and happiness The US, however, believes, it is best to isolate Iran, because then they feel punished. And countries that feel punished will change and be nice because every country in the world wants to be loved rather than punished by the US. Just give the bad guys a demonstration of US power, and then they will be nice and do whatever the US wants them to do. Germany: Exchanges are the magic bullet, while demonstrations of strength are counter-productive macho behavior. US: Exchanges are a sign of weakness and appeasement, while strength/Power is the only language the bad guys understand.

Don S on :

"Mainstream opinion in Germany is pretty much that every conflict in the world can be solved by exchanges of all sorts and talking and negotiating. Just be nice and open and have exchanges and then you get mutual understanding, peace, sunshine and happiness" Ummmm, EVERY country, Joerg? Can't you think of a single country whom Germany has punished with nasty words and various dimplomatic machinations at the UN and other places? I'll give you a clue: This country is currently a member of the NATO alliance - although perhaps not an active member for long the way things have been going.....

Pat Patterson on :

And that would make the Fulbright Program an example of what? Not to mention Voice of America and other US programs that don't involve the Marines!

Anonymous on :

As long as the dont trap the audience into full recitation of the Ring of the Nieblungen, peace may still come...

ian on :

Cultural exchanges are the best way for artists to cut through the politics of the day and enrich life for everyone. How can anyone but the most cynical be against this?

Joerg - Atlantic Review on :

Mm, perhaps it would have been best if Germany would isolate Iran more for a change, while the US sends an olive branch to Iran for a change, i.e. an orchestra to play music. But of course, that is not going to happen. The only remaining superpower is to afraid to look weak by engaging Iran on cultural matters. (Can you think of any other country that is as afraid as the US is to look weak? US politicians are more afraid of looking weak than any other politicians in the western world, I believe. And then they go into Iraq and make the US look weak nevertheless.) And it might have been better if the German orchestra had insisted on letting its female musicians play without a headscarf -- for musical reasons, having the ear free to listen or whatever.

Anonymous on :

Joerg: It is a music concert. The people you putatively want to impress with classical music's persuasive power are not going to be at the shows. You might get a small number of Mullahs, doubt it, and nobdy from the pre-literate urban poor who supports the revolution. The only other spectators will be the oppressed middle class Iranians who frankly are very cultured and cosmopolitan anyway. A provinical German orchestra from the rustbelt is not going to light a fire in their benighted souls and give peace a chance. Its a very German enterprise, isn't it? A pointlessly naive and simple gesture crafted to inflate an already bloated German sense of self-importance while risking and achieving nothing.

Joerg -- Atlantic Review on :

I agree with your last paragraph. Now couly you do me a favor and use a name, when you post comments? It does not have to be your real name. A name helps to differentiate between commentators. There could be several folks going by "anonymous"... If you click on "Remember Information" just above the "Submit Comment"-button, then your name will be stored in your browser and you don't have to enter it every time you write a comment. Thanks for reading and commenting on the Atlantic Review. I appreciate your contributions.

Anonymous on :

We have attempted numerous times to send a State Department cultural mission of Xtina, Brittany and a fine crop of the nastiest slags the good ole U S of A has to offer, but they dont seem interested.

Joerg -- Atlantic Review on :

Really? When? Well, maybe should start with offering your fine Chicago symphony orchestra rather than Xtina, Britney and other crazy girls. This is only fiction, right? [url][/url]

Sue on :

A distinction should be made between cultural exchange and economic exchange. I do not want the United States to do business with Iran, but I have no problem with academic or cultural programs and exchanges (as, for example, during the Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union). Unfortunately the Iranian government likes to arrest visiting US academics as spies, so that will dampen the enthusiasm for such exchanges, at least on the Western side.

Joerg - Atlantic Review on :

Good points! I think Germany should not do any more cultural exchanges until the US-Iranian academics are freed.

Pat Patterson on :

It would have been even more impressive if the orchestra had played some compositions by Leonard Bernstein, Gustav Mahler, Jacques Offenbach, Aaron Copland or even George Gershwin. Now that would have been making a cultural statement!

pen Name on :

All: There were many orchestras from Germany, France, and Russia that visited Iran before the Islamic Revolution. Their audiences were people of Northern Tehran, for the most part. So now there is a German orchestra in Iran playing the same type of music to the children of teh same people. I do not think that this has any political significance. By the way, Iranian ensembles have been touring Europe for many years after the Iranian Revolution - it was never considered overtly political. I think you are going to need to discuss more serious matters: such as your position in the Middle East after the Iran-US War. pen Name

Don S on :

Giving Iran Brahms in lieu of advanced machine tools with which to pursue a certain endeavor (as in the past) has to be counted an improvement in the situation from my POV! Go ahead and play!

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