Events | Music of Exile: Memory and Transformation in the Work of German and Iranian Composers

Thomas Mann House | June 21, 2024

June 21, 2024, 7:30 p.m. (PT) | Thomas Mann House Los Angeles

Join us for a concert-discussion highlighting the work of German and Iranian composers whose exile experiences have catalyzed the creation of music about political resistance and social transformation with 2024 Thomas Mann Fellow Aida Baghernejad, music scholar Joy Calico (UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music) and music critic Alex Ross (The New Yorker). The conversation will be moderated by musicologist Julius Reder Carlson and the concert will feature Hanns Eisler settings of Bertolt Brecht poems and music for strings by Gity Razaz, Nasim Khorassani, Adib Ghorbani, and Hesam Abedini.

Gustav Klimt, Die Musik, 1895, Oil on Canvas, Neue Pinakothek.

The experience of exile is often characterized by states of uncertainty and the challenge of adapting to new social, cultural, and political circumstances. In offering opportunities to process and reflect on moments of intense crises, music and art play can play key roles in this experience. Realities of exile vary widely: from forced displacement due to conflict or persecution to voluntary migration in search of better opportunities. In many cases, exile entails a rupture with familiar surroundings and the need to navigate unfamiliar territories. As a means of processing these realities in times of crisis, music and art can offer hope and solidarity, as well as a space for emotional release and reflection, often fostering a sense of community and shared resilience. Across different cultures, composers and musicians have drawn inspiration from their own exile journeys, and in their music, one can often hear the echoes of longing, resilience, and hope.

What roles can art play in the exile experience? In conceiving of – and potentially realizing – a future that precludes it? In this concert-discussion, music serves as a point of departure for exploring ways in which exiled creators negotiate between rejection of and nostalgia for ‘home’; cynicism and idealism with respect to the sociopolitical future; lamentation of personal victimhood and responsibility for collective rebirth.

Bringing the experiences of 1940s-era German refugees into dialog with those of contemporary Iranian exiles, the event strives to shed new light on the experiences of individuals from two iconic communities that have found refuge in LA and to complicate narratives about the sociopolitical tragedies from which they fled.

The concert portion of the event will include selections from Hanns Eisler’s Hollywooder Liederbuch and music for strings by Gity Razaz, Nasim Khorassani, Adib Ghorbani, and Hesam Abedini. The conversation will feature music critic and 2024 Thomas Mann Fellow Aida Baghernejad, music scholar Joy Calico (UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music), and renowned music critic Alex Ross (The New Yorker). The conversation will be moderated by musicologist Julius Reder Carlson.

Musicians and Composers
Hesam Abedini is an Iranian-American composer and producer whose work fuses Western contemporary music, Iranian music, free improvisation, and computer music. He is currently Assistant Professor of Music at Butte College.
Adib Ghorbani is a US-based Iranian composer and filmmaker. His songs are anthems of the Women Life Freedom movement sung by countless Iranian protestors worldwide.
Nasim Khorassani is an Iranian composer and founder of MOAASER, a free online music academy for Persian students. Her compositions have been performed by Silkroad Ensemble, No Exit New Music Ensemble, and International Contemporary Ensemble, among others. She is currently writing an opera commissioned by Project [BLANK], San Diego.
Gity Razaz is an Iranian-American composer. Her music has been commissioned and performed by BBC Symphony Orchestra, Israeli Chamber Project, Seattle Symphony, San Diego Symphony, and Washington National Opera.

Kirsten Ashley Wiest is a soprano specializing in the performance of contemporary music. She has premiered the works of over 80 composers and performed with ensembles such as LA Phil, San Diego Symphony, and Partch Ensemble.
Todd Moellenberg is a pianist and performance artist specializing in the work of the French queer avant-garde.
Eclipse Quartet is an ensemble dedicated to the music of contemporary composers, from John Cage and Morton Subotnick to Beck and Caetano Veloso. The Quartet performs internationally, participating in festivals such as Look and Listen, Festival for New American Music, and Hear and Now. They have been Artists in Residence at Mills College, University of California, Davis, and the Villa Aurora.



Part I
Robert Schumann
'In der Fremde' (Eichendorff)

Hanns Eisler
'Erinnerung an Eichendorff und Schumann' (Eichendorff)
'An den kleinen Radioapparat' (Brecht)
‘In den Hügeln wird Gold gefunden’ (Brecht)
‘Der Schatzgräber’ (Goethe)
'Mein junger Sohn fragt mich' (Brecht)
‘L’automne californien’ (Viertel)
'Vom Sprengen des Gartens' (Brecht)
Part II


Gity Razaz
Candenza for the Once Young

Nasim Khorassani

Adib Ghorbani
Flowers of Nostalgia (Golhay-e Ghorbat)

Hesam Abedini
O n O r W y

Hesam Abedini
'End of Shâhnâmeh' (Ferdowsi)

Adib Ghorbani
'How Are We Still Alive' (Ali Asadollahi)

Spellbound for solo viola has the intimate quality of a reminiscing soliloquy. Textures and soundscapes weave in and out of an original melody that conjures the improvisatory lyricism of traditional Persian music. I was particularly inspired by the mourning and sul ponticello sound quality that is inherent to Persian instruments such as the Ney and Kamanche. Spellbound was commissioned by Maggie Snyder for the VIOLA2020 project in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment establishing women’s right to vote.

This short violin piece is about my grandparents, specifically about my grandmother. After the death of my grandfather, my grandmother (or Mamani, as we call her) moved to the U.S. to be close to her family. She and Babaee (my grandfather) were living in Iran all alone after their children immigrated to the US and Europe, so it was only natural for Mamani to come live here after her husband of 60+ years had passed. However, after a short period of five years, Mamani decided to move back to Iran as she was homesick, missed visiting Babaee’s resting place and all their memories. This piece is dedicated to their lasting love and decades of companionship.

GROWTH - Nasim Khorassani
This is a cell constructed by B, C, D, and E flat, growing and expanding. Growth has elements from Iranian traditional music influencing its form, harmony, trills, and long introverted melodies, but these are the characteristics that I discovered later.

The work’s title is derived from the Iranian radio program “Flowers of Nostalgia”. This program aired throughout the 90s, broadcasting both Iranian traditional and Iranian pop music. This string quartet is inspired by the melodic content of those tunes - primarily stepwise melodies full of grace notes, vibrations and nuanced dynamics. The flowers of nostalgia now bloom here, carrying with them the scents of Iran.

O n O r W y - Hesam Abedini
I composed this relatively short string quartet piece to reconstruct my memory of the beginning of the 2009 Green Movement in Iran. In the afternoon after the presidential election, people took to the streets, and almost everywhere in Tehran, you could hear the sound of protests. I remember waking up to the whisper-like sounds of the protesters. In those moments, we all experienced a mixture of fear, uncertainty, excitement, and hope. We were all hopeful, at least at the beginning. I left Iran about eight months later, but the feeling that stayed with me was hope. Every time I remember those moments, hope is the first feeling that envelops my soul. Therefore, I chose a classical Persian modal system that, in the memory of the Iranian people, is associated with hope. Mâhur is a Dastgah (modal system) that includes a Gusheh (subsystem) named Châhâr Pâreh (four-part), based on a classical Persian poetic rhythm with a repetitive short-long syllabic pattern: Short-Short-Long-Short-Long (x4). I chose this specific Gusheh of Mâhur because of its repetitive rhythmic component. The words that are sung are meaningless, composed of short or long syllables set to the music in a way that sometimes the combination of them may sound meaningful to a Persian-speaking audience. This part imitates how, on that afternoon, we could hear the protesters from a distance at home and how excited and passionate we were to join them.

- Hesam Abedini

Setting of this 11th-century Shâhnâmeh text by Ferdowsi:.

They hide all the treasures

They strive yet yielding their achievements to the foe


No faith has remained in this world

The tongues and souls are brimming with tyranny


They shed blood for the worldly gains

Bad times seem halcyon


They seek their own profit at the expense of others

Using “religion” as their pretext


‘HOW ARE WE STILL ALIVE’ - Adib Ghorbani

Protest song from Women Life Freedom movement. Setting of a poem by Ali Asadollahi.



By Invitation only


Aida Baghernejad is a journalist who studied media studies in Berlin, Barcelona, and London. Her work focuses on how cultural products such as music, film, and social media content influence the socio-political state of the world. In addition to numerous contributions for Die Zeit, Der Tagesspiegel, Missy Magazine, and others, she also co-hosts the podcast 55 Voices for Democracy, a collaboration between the Thomas Mann House, the Goethe-Institut, dublab radio, and the Los Angeles Review of Books.



Joy Calico joined the faculty at UCLA in August 2023, where she is Professor of Musicology at the Herb Alpert School of Music and affiliated faculty in Jewish Studies. She has published monographs on two luminaries of the Austro-German diaspora in Los Angeles: Bertolt Brecht at the Opera (2008) and Arnold Schoenberg’s A Survivor from Warsaw in Postwar Europe (2014), both with University of California Press. She is a member of the international working team of the Black Opera Research Network (BORN). Her current projects include a book about operatic scene types in 20th- and 21st-century opera based on Kaija Saariaho’s L’amour de loin, and a co-edited volume entitled Childhood and the Operatic Imaginary since 1900.


Alex Ross has been the music critic of The New Yorkersince 1996. His first book, The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century, won a National Book Critics Circle Award and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. His second book, Listen to This, is a collection of essays. His latest book is Wagnerism: Art and Politics in the Shadow of Music, an account of Wagner’s vast cultural impact. He has written often about Thomas Mann and the émigré community in L.A. for The New Yorker. He was awarded with a MacArthur Fellowship and the Belmont Prize. 



Julius Reder Carlson is Associate Professor of Music and Artistic Director of The Da Camera Society at Mount Saint Mary’s University, Los Angeles and co-founder of the Santa Monica Youth Orchestra (aka Sounds Like LA). His recent publications explore the transnational resonances of the South American Nueva Canción, particularly the work of Cold War-era singer-songwriters Atahualpa Yupanqui and Wolf Biermann.




This event is a collaboration between the Thomas Mann House Los Angeles and the The Da Camera Society.

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