The Tehran Symphony Orchestra, one of the oldest and most prestigious musical ensembles in Iran, was all set to perform during the closing ceremony of the World Wrestling Clubs Cup at the Azadi Sports Complex in Tehran, when the musicians received distressing news.
Just 15 minutes before the orchestra was supposed to take the stage and play the Iranian national anthem, authorities canceled on them. The reason: The group features female musicians.
“Everything seemed to be OK and we were ready to perform the national anthem,” the orchestra conductor and music director Ali Rahbari told a Persian media outlet. “However, 15 minutes before the performance, we were suddenly informed that the orchestra would not be allowed to perform with its female performers.”
Rahbari did not mention who “they” were exactly, but he deemed the incident as an insult towards his group — particularly since it was the first time that someone had barred the popular orchestra from performing because of women playing the instruments.
“This remark upset me,” the musician added, recalling organizers' comments over how it was impossible for women to play music on stage. “I said that I would never accept this insult. Either we all will perform together or we all will leave the hall.”
Since the Islamic revolution of 1979, the country has banned women from singing in public. However, there is no legal limit on female instrumentalists in the country.
“They invited us themselves and yet they disrespected us,” Rahbari said further. “Why shouldn’t they be allowed to perform the national anthem of their country?”
Despite having a rich cultural background in music and performing arts, the religious leaders and conservatives in Iran consider music a vice that can “excite and cause deviation” among the country’s youth. In fact, since the revolution, the state television has rarely shown any musical instruments on screen.
Anyhow, that does not mean music is completely barred from the Middle Eastern country. Once an artist gets official authorization from the Ministry of Culture, they are at complete liberty to perform anywhere they want — a regulation supported by Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani.
However, regardless of the permits, artists often accuse authorities of cancelling their concerts and high-profile performances on short notice with little to no explanation. Many see it as a tactic by the country’s ultraconservative groups to push back against Rouhani’s reasonably moderate government, which might possibly hold some truth to it.
Although the Tehran Symphony Orchestra did not perform at the sporting event, the director’s effort to stand up for his ensemble is quite commendable. On the other hand, the repression and violation of women rights in Iran — especially in this day and age — is extremely troublesome.