Fall 2016 SEMINARS - September 7 2016

Seminar on Iranian Studies

The first meeting of the 29th consecutive year of Columbia University Seminar on
Iranian Studies for the academic year 2016-2017 will take place on:

Wednesday, September 7, 2016
at 5:30 pm in the
Faculty House of Columbia University
Our speaker will be

Mr. Farhad Mechkat
Former Music Director and Principal Conductor of
Tehran Symphony Orchestra
Who will lead the discussion on:
From Tehran Philharmonic to Tehran Symphony Orchestra

We will gather in the lounge of Faculty House from 5:00-5:30.
Seminar will start at 5:30.
Please notify our Rapporteur, Amy Meverden <aem2191@utsnyc.edu> if you will attend the lecture. (Please also specify if you will stay for dinner.)

We are looking forward to the pleasure of seeing you at the seminar.
Co-Chairs: Vahid Nowshirvani and Ahmad Ashraf

To reach the Faculty House:
Enter the Wien Hall Gate on 116 th Street between Amsterdam Avenue and Morningside Drive. Walk past Wien Hall, then turn right to the Faculty House.


The late 1960s and early 70s were years of rapid changes in Iran, not only in the life style, economic and industrial domains, but also in the cultural movements. The two agents of this evolution were the Ministry of Culture and the National Iranian Radio & Television (NIRT). These two entities were competing to outdo each other, the ministry with the use of the newly inaugurated Roudaki Hall (a house conceived for opera performances but also used for symphonic concerts, ballet presentations, recitals, folkloric dance group) while the NIRTV was concentrating on efforts to revive theater activities, its own Chamber Orchestra, and above all organizing a very ambitious Arts Festival every September in Shiraz and Persepolis.

The Ministry was administered in a stodgy and "stately" manner while the NIRTV group was led by very young and dynamic group of people, with the aim to appeal mainly to the younger generation. These contrasts created a very appealing situation that attracted Farhad to return to Iran and contribute to the cultural development of the country.

The great advantage was that he was left free to do his work professionally as he saw fit, but with that freedom came many concrete obstacles that prevented a faster growth of the musical life. The very presence of the ministry of arts and culture implied establishing a governmental entity with the trust to propose policies for the arts and culture; however, the bureaus were there, with their titles and directors but no policy.  For a symphony orchestra to grow organically within a society it is necessary to provide schools of music that can produce talented musicians, so the best of them can join the orchestra.

There were also other obstacles of a logistic nature: since the inauguration of Roudaki Hall, the hall came to be used by so many companies that there was a sort of traffic congestion. In a hall of about 870 seats, there were over 700 full-time paid people working in it, including the opera and its crews (orchestra, chorus, singers and technical personnel), the ballet and the national dance companies, the symphony orchestra and its chorus, as well as all the administrative and maintenance personnel.

All of these and other topics will be presented, telling the story of a most dynamic decade in Tehran.


Born in Hamburg, Germany in November 1938, Farhad Mechkat’s family moved back to Tehran in August 1939 to stay away from the upcoming World War; but when the war was over, his family settled in Geneva, Switzerland, where he had all his schooling.  It was also there, at Geneva Conservatory of Music, that he started his music education at a young age.

He was sent to continue his studies in the United States, where he graduated from Adelphi University with a degree in economics, while continuing intensively his musical studies. Then, in 1961, he entered the Mannes College of Music and the New School for Social Research. After finishing his studies at Mannes, he decided to enrich his music expertise at the Italian school of music making.  He spent 3 years studying with the great Toscanini's disciple, Mº Franco Ferrara in Rome and Sienna. Three years later, he returned to New York to participate in the prestigious Dmitri Mitropoulos International Competition for Young Conductors. Winning the competition qualified him to become assistant conductor to the New York Philharmonic and Leonard Bernstein for the 1968-1969 season.

As a consequence, he was invited to participate in the Shiraz-Persepolis Festival with the National Iranian Radio Television Chamber Orchestra. In 1972 the Ministry of Culture and Arts invited him to take over the Tehran Symphony Orchestra as its Music Director and Principal Conductor. Through proper programming, recruitment of musicians and assiduous work, their collaboration brought the level of the orchestra to an international standard, putting Tehran on the musical map of the world.

He also continued guest conducting some of the major international orchestras in Italy, France, Germany, Austria, Czech Republic and Switzerland.  His understanding and ease with contemporary music brought him many invitations to participate in highly acclaimed festivals in Venice, Rome, Paris, Lisbon, etc.

His attachment to and love for Italian culture brought him the honor of being one of the youngest people ever to be awarded the title of Commander of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic.

Amy Meverden