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Biography

Mohammad Reza Mortazavi was born in 1979 in Isfahan, two months after the revolution in Iran. He has been living in Germany as a musician and composer for 19 years.

Since his childhood Mortazavi has been deeply connected with music. He started playing the tombak at the age of six and the daf at fourteen. As a youth he often played in orchestras and won the national Tombak competition in Tehran six times in a row. He was fascinated by the multifaceted sounds of both instruments and went beyond their usual playing styles. The audience was enthusiastic about his musical ideas. Because of this resonance he decided to play a Tombak solo concert with his own compositions in Tehran. When Mortazavi asked for a permit from the municipal cultural office, he met a jury member of the Tombak competition. Despite the awards he received, the conservative official found his application ridiculous and rejected it: Solo performances for Tombak were only intended for the old masters – so the reasoning. Disappointed by the dogmatic attitude of Iran’s cultural elite, he longed for artistic freedom. He wanted to focus only on music, detached from the instrument and national cultural narratives: a global music in which something human is deeply connected.

In 2001 Mortazavi received a concert request from a promoter in Munich. The thought of being able to travel for music encouraged him greatly. However, he initially did not receive a visa from the German embassy. Only at the seventh attempt, and now with a special letter of recommendation in his hand, he received an entry permit. The first concert in Germany. A special resonance from the audience was noticeable for Mortazavi. He also received positive press reviews, which helped him from now on to travel to Germany more easily for workshops and concerts in small jazz clubs. He decided to move to Munich at the end of 2001 and turn his back on his previous success as a musician in Iran. He soon realized that a life for music in Germany would not necessarily be easier. Although the organizers, the press and the audience were enthusiastic about his virtuosity, the microtonal and polyrhythmic levels of the music and thus the fluidity of his artistic position received less attention. Moreover, the wide sound spectrum of the instruments Tombak and Daf was unknown to many.

With time, however, Mortazavi learned a lot from musical interaction with the audience: he remarked, for example, that behind the admiration of his complex finger movements often a deeper feeling to the music itself could hide. In order to point out a universal dimension of music, to which everyone can find an emotional connection, he emphasizes again and again that he does not see himself as a creator of music, but rather goes through it. If music finds a clear form of expression, it works for him like a spinning top, which at the moment of highest speed leads to a state of rest. His playing techniques appear here like tonal mirrors of the imagination. The Tombak is only one of the many possible projection surfaces. The coordinates of his rhythmic sound worlds are oriented both to the pulse, which carries a different dynamic in each moment, and to the metronome, which carries the time with it.

From today’s perspective, Mortazavi describes finding a balance between concentration and letting go as the core element of his musical work: a constantly changing movement in which the boundaries of body and mind dissolve into one another. In this, a new and free music finally expresses itself as a philosophical position, which is perceived consciously or unconsciously.

From 2001 to 2003 Mortazavi produced his first solo albums PULSE, DEPARTURE and WIND & FIRE. The initial period in Germany was connected with great efforts for his residence permit. In 2003 Mortazavi received the German World Music Award RUTH in the category Newcomer, which helped him a lot in this respect. In the following years Mortazavi gave many workshops and taught Tombak and Daf. He often worked with children. He also played international concerts. In 2008 he released the album SAENA. With the sold-out release concert in the Passionskirche in Berlin, an important musical development process began, leading to new concepts for albums and live performances. In 2010 Mortazavi played a sold out release concert in the Berlin Philharmonie for the newly released album GREEN HANDS. In this context the DVD Live at the Berlin Philharmonie was created. In addition, this year he started to work together with flowfish.music. In 2011 Mortazavi released the album GERADEAUS and played, among others, at WOMEX – one of the world’s largest music fairs – in Copenhagen. The release tour for the album CODEX, released in 2013, consisted of over 90 concerts in venues and festivals worldwide, such as the World Music Festival in Shanghai (China), Philharmonie Luxembourg, Philharmonie Cologne and three years in a row at the Fusion Festival in Lärz. In 2015 he played the final concert of the tour in the sold-out Samariterkirche in Berlin. His many-sided concert experiences inspired him to create the acoustic event series TRANSFORMATION in the same year, which resulted in a live album of the same name in 2016. In 2018 the album FOCUS was released on the Padre Himalaya label. In 2019 Mortazavi was invited by the Sydney Opera House, Rewire, Minimal Music Festival, Berlin Atonal, among others. In October 2019 the Parisian label Latency released Mortazavi’s album RITME JAAVDANEGI, which was named by Pitchfork as one of the best experimental albums of 2019.

Currently Mortazavi is working on new compositions and studio recordings.

Over the years Mortazavi has worked with many musicians, dancers and theaters worldwide. In 2008 he composed music for the choreographer Helena Waldmann. In 2011 he was invited by Jochen Ulrich for the ballet performance “Rumi in Flammen” at the Landestheater Linz for solo Tombak and Daf with 16 dancers*. The piece was performed again and again and was always sold out. The Odeon Theater in Vienna has produced many dance performances over the years with Mortazavi’s studio albums. In 2013 and 2016 he performed live to these choreographies. He developed several compositions for solo tombak and orchestra, which were performed several times with the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen. In 2016 this project in Frankfurt was directed by Trevor Pinnock. He also performs regularly with the musician and producer Burnt Friedman. In 2017 they released the album YEK together. In July 2020 the second studio album YEK 2 was released.