Music of Asia greets Lunar New Year 

Stanford’s Pan-Asian Music Festival, running today through Feb. 14, coincides with the beginning of the Chinese New Year, but its focus is on art from Central Asia.

Along with the Chinese, most people on the continent — including Koreans (Seolnal), Vietnamese (Tet), Tibetans (Losar), Mongolians (Tsagaan Sar) and the Japanese  — mark the new year beginning today.

The 7-year-old Stanford festival, titled “From the Steppes,” features a varied program that includes singers, musicians, composers, dancers and poets from Iran, Tibet, Mongolia and other locales.

Local participation includes the New Pacific Trio, the New Spectrum Ensemble and Ballet Afsaneh.

Festival founder and Artistic Director Jindong Cai calls attention to the variety of art within each ethnic group. In Mongolia alone, it includes traditional media such as throat-singing, virtuoso horse-head fiddle playing, ethno-jazz fusion and Mongolian hip-hop.

“Elsewhere in Central Asia,” says Cai, “in Uzbekistan or Pakistan, the music is closer to Western music. They use the major and minor scales. Mongolian music is closer to the East. It uses a pentatonic scale, and has similarities to Chinese music.”

Music plays a special role in the lives of the nomadic Mongolian people, bringing communities together, shared on the move and as people gather in camp. There are even songs to soothe the animals upon whom all depend.

Meetings, symposia, performances and exhibits at Stanford (and UC Berkeley’s International House) culminate in a traditional Mongolian dinner.

Also, the festival includes a return performance by Iran’s multitalented and controversial musician Mohsen Namjoo, celebrating the release of his new album, “Useless Kisses.” Called “Iran’s Bob Dylan” by the New York Times, Namjoo has mastered the range from classical Persian music to folk and pop, combining poetry and music.

The Afsaneh Art and Culture Society, participating in the festival, performs Persian, Tajik, Afghan and other dance and music, both traditional and contemporary.


Pan-Asian Music Festival

Stanford University

When: Today through Feb. 14

$5 to $20

Contact: (650) 725-2787,

Performance schedule  

All concerts are in Dinkelspiel Auditorium.

8 p.m. Saturday: “From the Grasslands to the Steppes” with the Stanford Symphony Orchestra conducted by Jindong Cai and featuring work by Mongolian composer Byambasuren Sharav

8 p.m. Feb. 11: “Cross Currents: Contemporary Music from Central and East Asia” with the New Spectrum Ensemble, New Pacific Trio, shô player Ko Ishikawa and horse-head fiddle player Urtnasan

8 p.m. Feb. 12: “A Central Asian Celebration: Ballet Afsaneh and Asian Masters” featuring folk and classical dances of Central Asia

7:30 p.m. Feb. 13: “Deylaman: An Evening with Mohsen Namjoo and Friends” featuring the acclaimed Iranian folk singer

About The Author

Janos Gereben

Janos Gereben

Janos Gereben is a writer and columnist for SF Classical Voice; he has worked as writer and editor with the NY Herald-Tribune, TIME Inc., UPI, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, San Jose Mercury News, Post Newspaper Group, and wrote documentation for various technology companies.
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