Image by Mehdi Tavassolian, kindly provided by Peyman Khazeni.

Between Tradition and Innovation: The Young Generation of Iranian Composers in the Digital Era

Author and producer of podcast: Dr. des. Kamyar Nematollahy

5 March 2021

Iranian classical music is heir to an ancient tradition that was historically connected to the court and other institutions of power. This music was once based on the Maghām system, but as a result of formal changes and transmutations, is currently based on Dastgāh and thus is largely called Dastgāhi music. I, as an Iranian musician and academic, have always been interested in the social aspects of this musical genre in addition to the technical and aesthetic aspects of it.

While I was writing my PhD thesis “Iranian Classical Music Since the 1970s: The Discourses of Tradition and Identity” at the University of Cologne, I got intrigued by how innovation is practiced in Dastgāh-style music and its relationship to tradition. Therefore, I decided to analyze those issues more. This became the basis of my project in Subproject 2c of “Knowledge unbound”, the International Standing Working Group “Iran and Beyond: Breaking the Ground for Sustainable Scholarly Collaboration” (IRSSC), which has culminated in several academic journal articles (Nematollahy 2021a, 2021b).

I also felt that a podcast could potentially attract a wider audience than academic papers would. With this more accessible format, I could introduce to interested readers in and outside the academic world the current circumstance of Iranian Dastgāhi music and the challenges the new generation of Iranian musicians is facing. So, I proposed this podcast “The Young Generation of Iranian Composers in the Digital Era”.

To illustrate the challenges of this new generation, I chose to interview Peyman Khazeni, who is a well-known composer belonging to the young generation of Iranian composers. Khazeni was born in Tehran in 1984 and has released several music albums, both in the format of instrumental and vocal music. The main reason I chose him as the interviewee of this podcast, in addition to his success in attracting audiences, was the fact that I have known him for a long time and have been following his works. As a result, I am aware that he has always been concerned about applying innovation in his works while not estranging his music from the roots of Iranian Dastgāhi music. His concerns therefore very much reflect the kinds of issues I analyzed in my research for the IRSSC project.

In this podcast, we mainly discuss the way Khazeni practices innovation and to what extent he remains faithful to traditions. He also briefly introduces his music albums and highlights the specific features they present, and he talks about the challenges the young generation of Iranian composers are facing, as well as about the role of digital media in the production and distribution of music in Iran. In this podcast, we hear parts of some of the instrumental and vocal pieces composed by Peyman Khazeni.

Podcast: Nematollahy, Kamyar “The Young Generation of Iranian Composers in the Digital Era”. Orient-Institut Istanbul Podcast, March 2021


Nematollahy, Kamyar (2021a). “Iranian Music and the Construction of Collective Identity: the 1970s and Early-Revolutionary Iran”. Submitted for publication.

Nematollahy, Kamyar (2021b). “Virtual Space, Real Changes: A Study on the Impact of Social Media on Iranian Classical Music”. In preparation.

Dr. des. Kamyar Nematollahy is a musician and ethnomusicologist from the University of Cologne where he defended his Ph.D. thesis in 2020. Since September 2019, he has been working in the BMBF-funded initiative “Iran and Beyond – Breaking the Ground for Sustainable Scholarly Collaboration (IRSSC). Performance of Culture, Religion and Body as Strategies of Self-Empowerment in the Islamic Republic of Iran”.

Citation: Nematollahy, Kamyar. “Between Tradition and Innovation: The Young Generation of Iranian Composers in the Digital Era,” Orient-Institut Istanbul Blog, 5 March 2021.


Islamicate world; Iran; 21st  century; podcast; OII-Music; OII-IRSSC