Irish composer Derek Gleeson, who has conducted orchestras throughout Europe, faced a bit of a learning curve in preparing to take the guest baton at the Tehran Symphony Orchestra this weekend.
The 46-year-old music director of the Dublin Philharmonic Orchestra says he had to get familiar with a traditional Persian stringed instrument known as the kamancheh, which is related to the ancient lira and other precursors to the modern violin. Gleeson described it as a "cello on your lap."
"The style and the tone of the instruments is not something that you’d normally be familiar with in the West, but working with the orchestra has been no problem," he said in a phone interview last week from Tehran.
Gleeson is scheduled to take the baton for two nights beginning Friday under a guest conductor program backed by Iran’s cultural overseers.
The program will open with two Persian works and close with Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6.
Gleeson is the second foreign conductor to lead the Tehran orchestra after Germany’s Matthias Kruger, who was on the podium in October.
Gleeson, who splits his time between Ireland and California, said he was approached by a Los Angeles-based Iranian musician who maintains strong links to Tehran’s classical music community.
"He is the one who approached me. … So they eventually said, ‘You want to come to Tehran?’ I had never been to the Middle East before and I said, ‘Sure,’" said Gleeson.
Gleeson has previously conducted the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland and many other orchestras in Europe.