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Spotlight

Lily Afshar

By Phil Freeman
Published March 13, 2007
IRAN (ISLAMIC REPUBLIC OF)

Lily Afshar combines the delicate yet powerful sound of the classical guitar with the melodic ornamentation of Persian and Baroque music. Her fourth album, Hemispheres (Archer), is a hypnotically beautiful suite of pieces, many brand-new and some written expressly for her. She’s been playing the guitar for decades, having first become aware of the instrument as a child – she overheard a cousin trying and failing to learn, and was consumed with the desire to grab the instrument away and do it herself. Later, she says, “listening to Andres Segovia inspired and encouraged me to pursue the classical guitar for the rest of my life. I loved his tone, his phrasing, his vibrato, his use of timbres, his musicianship, and his love for the guitar. I loved the intimacy of the guitar, its warm sound, and the fact that I could hold it, put both hands on it, and play at all odd hours whenever I felt like it without disturbing anyone.”

Far from disturbing anyone, Afshar is now the head of the Guitar Program at the University of Memphis, and has won numerous awards and fellowships for her playing. On Hemispheres, she also plays the seh-tar, an ancient Persian instrument. “Just like in the Baroque period, where ornamentation was up to the performer and was used as a form of improvisation, Persian music also uses dense ornamentation,” Afshar says, explaining the commonalities between her various endeavors. “The execution of a melodic line or a mode is left up to the musician. In learning a Persian instrument such as the seh-tar, one also learns the variety of techniques to ornament a melody.” Hemispheres fuses Baroque classical with Persian traditions, and the result is one of the most sublime solo guitar experiences around.