Listening Room

05 SirventesSirventès – Iranian Female Composers Association
Brian Thornton
New Focus Recordings FCR367 ( 


Sirventès - Listen on YouTube

And the Moses Drowned - Listen on YouTube

Vulnerable - Listen on YouTube


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Sirventès is a collection of new solo and ensemble works from Cleveland Orchestra cellist Brian Thornton and the Iranian Female Composters Association, founded in 2017 and dedicated to supporting female composers from Iran through programming, commissioning and mentorship. The album, beautiful, warm and compelling, focuses on composers telling their own stories in their own voices, providing a perfect showcase for the six featured women, each accomplished and successful in her own right.

Beginning with a four-part work written for string quartet in 2017 by Tehran-born Mahdis Golzar Kashani, And the Moses Drowned is “Dedicated to Aylan Kurdi and all innocent children fallen victim to the war.” This is a beautifully descriptive work, the plaintive opening reminiscent of Arvo Pärt but quickly intensifying in modes, metres and melody. 

Nina Barzegar’s solo cello work Vulnerable is a delicate balance, expressed by the composer as, “By being vulnerable, I do not mean being in a position where one can be hurt easily. Instead, I mean experiencing great human emotions: feeling shame, sorrow, gladness, love, belonging, empathy, and embracing who we truly are….” 

Nasim Khorassani’s Growth for string trio (2017) focuses on a cell constructed by B, C, D and E flat, a deeply concentrated emotional journey that both moves and stays stagnant, almost as if describing the constraints under which it was composed. Niloufar Iravani’s 2017 string quartet The Maze is in three parts depicting the struggle to navigate emotions. 

A favourite is the title track by Anahita Abbasi, featuring Toronto’s Amahl Arulanandam, cello and Nathan Petitpas, percussion. The writing for both instruments calls back and forth between pitched and unpitched, responding without leadership but more as balanced characters in a story. It is raw, spacious and expressive, a delicate duo between the cello and percussion but also a duet between time and space.

Mina Arissian’s Suite for Cello closes the album and is beautifully played by Thornton, who never muscles in on the composers but remains committed to the most direct translations of these powerful works as possible. Some time with the enclosed information on each of these composers is well spent, getting to know just a few of the brilliant women in the Iranian Female Composers Association.

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