On Wednesday 28 NovemberAncient Roots New Leaves returns for the second and final concert in this series. In this performance we will see a unique collaboration between leading Iranian composer and instrumentalist Hamid Motebassem with the upcoming female vocalist Sepideh Raissadat. We caught up with them ahead of the concert.

What are you particularly looking forward to about your forthcoming performance at Southbank Centre?

Hamid Motebassem: London is a very large and lively city, always buzzing with an array of cultural activities from around the globe. It feels like a global stage and it feels nice to be performing in this global venue. Performing in London, especially at the Southbank Centre, has been the highlight of many of my European tours during the past 20 years and I am really looking forward to performing there again this year.

Sepideh Raissadat: Well this is the first time I am performing in London I am very excited and enthusiastic to be performing at Queen Elizabeth Hall, one of the world’s premium concert halls, in front of a perfectly tuned audience

You’ve been working on large orchestral project, but this is a return to the more traditional small ensemble style. Is this the shape of your future works?
HM: Composers always try to choose the right tools for their works. Sometimes this is in the format of large orchestras, and sometimes it is in the form of small ensembles such as quartets or quintets. My approach to this ensemble is quite different to the more traditional ensembles that I myself have performed with in the past. All the compositions for this performance are arranged and composed for a quintet of four lute-style instruments and percussion, plus a vocalist. Although the music that will be performed is based on classical Persian music, the arrangements and the sounds that will be produced are quite different to the more traditional ensemble.

Can you tell us a bit about your background and the music that you will be performing?
SR: I started to sing the traditional music of Iran at the age of five and my passion for singing was highly appreciated by my parents. At the age of nine I started to study the traditional classical repertoire of Iranian music known as Radif with the famous Persian diva Parisa whose career at moment time was limited to her private teaching activities. In fact she was banned from any public performance, as were the other female vocalists, since the 1979 revolution. My first professional performance was at the age of eleven, when I was chosen by a performer at school to be on national Iranian television. The performance was actually cancelled because television programmers believed that mine was the voice of a mature woman rather than a young girl.

When I was eighteen I recorded my first publicly released album with a great Persian composer Parviz Meshkatian, which considering the political and religious climate in Iran at that time was nothing short of a miracle! It was the first time a female voice was being published as part of a duet after the revolution. Two weeks after the publication of the album, had a concert in a public theatre in Tehran. This was the first time after the revolution that a female voice was heard in a prominent public setting.

After finishing my Bachelor’s degree in painting I applied to study Musicology at the University of Bologna and I moved to Italy. Along with my studies I taught, practised and performed Persian music. I collaborated with several great Italian musicians such as Franco Battiato and Andrea Parodi and I also performed on Italian national television and radio several times. I moved to Canada in 2009 and am currently continuing my academic studies in ethnomusicology at the University of Toronto

How did your musical collaboration come about?
HM: Composing for a female vocalist is always quite significant for a composer. Sepideh Raissadat is one of the young and upcoming female vocalists whose knowledge and capabilities youth and energy brings a special flair to the performance and it’s been a real joy working with her.

SR: I started collaborating with Maestro Motebassem and Mezrab Ensemble approximately 2 years ago following a short tour in Italy. Since then this is our first big tour that takes place in twelve cities of Canada and Europe. We started on October 26 in Toronto and will do our last show in Stockholm

Who or what inspires you?
HM: Every work is inspired differently. Sometimes it is an earthly love and sometimes it is a more divine love. Some works are inspired by past legends and equally some are inspired by present day events.

If you could programme your ideal Southbank Centre show, which artists (living or dead) would you bring together?
SR: I would invite at least a dozen of the best Iranian female singers who do not have the opportunity to perform in Iran.

What do you listen to in your spare time?
SR: Besides Persian music, I listen to central Asian music. I also enjoy listening to Hindustani music a lot.

Do you have any strange rituals you carry out before or after you perform?
HM: I just try to relax and concentrate on the work and also try to get ready with my outfit, which needs to be in presentable form. That’s basically it! I don’t have any special ritual. I need to have space to relax and concentrate to get myself psychologically ready.

SR: If I’m alone I will close my eyes and possibly meditate. If I’m with the other members of the ensemble, I try to be more quiet and enjoy their presence.

What’s next for you?
HM: After this series I will be going back to Pardis, which is a large orchestral project with vocalists, which has already been performed in London last year at the Cadogen Hall. My plan is arrange a series of concerts in Iran and also to arrange a video and audio recording of that concert.

SR: This year we will continue our tour in our European cities in early 2013 and in the next academic year I will start my PHD studies at the University of Toronto.

Hamid Motessem and Sepideah Raissadat will be performing live with the Mezrab Ensemble at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on Wednesday 28th November. For a preview of what you can expect to hear at the concert, you can watch the below video footage from their 2012 tour:

For more info and to book tickets for this exciting performance, CLICK HERE