A biography of Stephan Karam

 

Written by his daughter, Daisy Karam-Read

Stephan Karam was a Christian Assyrian-Armenian violinist and composer born on January 4, 1908, in Tabriz, Iran.  His mother tongue was Armenian.

His first major work was the “Symphonie Iranienne”, composed in 1950. Karam’s symphony was followed by the “Sonata in C for Violin and Piano” and the “Sonata for Violin Solo”.

Stephan’s father, Mesrop Khan Karam, was born in Urmia, Iran in 1862, and received his primary education in the American schools. He was an Assyrian scholar and poet, fluent in ten languages. During the closing years of the Qajar Dynasty the crown prince of Persia resided in Tabriz, and Mesrop became the Secretary of Literature and Languages at his Court. His main literary work was his translation of Omar Khayam’s The Rubayiat from Farsi into Assyrian.  He was also the Chief Customs Officer of the Azerbaijan province.

Stephan was the youngest of the three children of Mesrop and his second wife, Tigrenoui, née, Massehian.  She was an Armenian businesswoman who imported luxury fabrics and other goods from Europe, mostly from France. Her taste became well known, and the Persian nobility became her clients. Her first cousin was Hovhannes Khan Massehian, the Iranian ambassador to many countries, one of which was England, in which position he served from 1927-1929.

In 1922, when Karam was fourteen years old, his mother, thirty-seven years old, died of stomach cancer.

At six, while walking with his father in Tabriz, Karam saw his first violin in a store window and fell in love with it. His father bought it for him. He began studying with a local teacher, but because there was no instructor sufficiently professional in Tabriz at the time, he was largely compelled to learn on his own.

At age twelve, he formed his own youth orchestra, and took six young musician friends on a local tour, acting as both conductor and violinist.  This chamber group rode during the night, on donkeys, from village to village.

In 1925, when he was seventeen years old, Karam’s father sent him to study at the Conservatoire de Paris, in France, where he was invited to become a pupil of Professor Carembat, who was a member of the Sarasate Quartet and of the National Conservatory’s Jury. Stephan studied violin privately with Carembat until 1928 and in that time, mastered the standard violin repertoire.

In October 1928 he took the exam for admission to the Brussels Royal Conservatory in Belgium. He entered the Conservatory on October 6, 1928, and was admitted to the violin class of Prof. Mathieu Crickboom, who was the assistant and successor to Eugene Ysaye, the Belgian violinist and composer known as the “king of the violin”. From 1928-1933 he continued his violin studies at the Conservatory under Crickboom, a very demanding teacher whose principal work was his violin method.

When Stephan was twenty-two, he won second prize in the public competition of the Brussels Royal Conservatory for violin. Disappointed, he worked assiduously, and then, in 1933, when he was twenty-five, an international jury presided over by Georges Enesco awarded Stephan the Brussels Royal Conservatory’s first prize “Laureat” for violin. From 1933-1936, he also studied chamber music at the Conservatory, and won first prize in that competition as well.

After receiving these honors, he appeared as a soloist on European concert stages and performed for Brussels radio. In Tabriz, Stephan’s father heard his son’s performances via Radio-Conférences.

During these years in Belgium, he also began intensive studies in composition, excelling in harmony and particularly in counterpoint.

He left the Conservatory in July 1937 in order to continue his studies in composition. Around 1940, Stephan left Brussels and moved to Berlin.  He performed as a soloist on Berlin Broadcasting, performing the standard repertoire and his own compositions as well. This was followed by concert tours in Germany.

At a Beethoven concert, Karam’s friend, Mostafa Tabatabai introduced Stephan Karam to a young German woman, named Irmgard Feldhahn.

Shortly before the end of WW II in 1945, Stephan left Berlin and moved to Salzburg, Austria. He insisted that Irmgard join him in Salzburg, which she did, shortly before the fall of Berlin.

On July 12, 1945, Stephan and Irmgard were married in Kufstein, Austria. They were the first couple to be married in Kufstein after the war, and the day after their wedding, the American army celebrated the couple with a wedding breakfast.

From 1946-1951, Karam studied at the Mozarteum in Salzburg, earning a certificate in Harmony, Counterpoint, and Fugue. He studied with Paul Hindemith, one of the most important German composers of his time, and Johann Nepomuk David, the award-winning German-Austrian composer.

During these years (1947-1948), Stephan also studied Fugue. He asked Hindemith if he should try to start composing, realizing that he was beginning at a late age.  Hindemith asked Stephan to write something to give an example of his work. When Stephan showed his efforts to Hindemith, Hindemith’s said, “Not only should you try to compose—you must compose!”

It was in Salzburg that Karam composed his “Sonata No. 1.” He also composed “Lieder.”

During these postwar years, Karam also participated in the Salzburg Music Festivals under Professor Paumgartner. Karam was invited to perform at the Seminar for American Studies, sponsored by Harvard University at Schloss Leopoldskron, the historic nineteenth century rococo castle.  There, Stephan gave a sonata evening.

Destitute after the war, Stephan earned a little money as a translator for the American army. He was fluent in English, French, German, Persian, Armenian and Turkish.

He continued to perform. In Vienna, on December 6, 1947, the Neues Wiener Tagblatt, one of the most widely circulated newspapers in Austria, wrote “Stephan Karam performed works of Grieg and received warmest ovations. It was indeed a worthwhile evening.” Of the same performance, The Observer wrote “With Stephan Karam’s excellent collaboration the Grieg Sonata was masterfully interpreted and received great ovations.”

On January 28, 1948, daughter Daisy was born to Irmgard and Stephan Karam.

The United States helped in the restoration of post-World War II Austria, but housing, employment opportunities, medical care and education remained substandard. Stephan Karam decided his best option was to move his family to America.  Jonathan Careb, a cousin of Karam residing in the United States, was their sponsor.

In June 1954, the Karam family embarked for the U.S.A.

On July 8, 1954, Stephan and his wife and daughter arrived in the port of New York.  Their first home was the Chelsea Hotel in Manhattan, where composer Virgil Thomson had lived. After a few months there, seeking an apartment that was affordable but in a neighborhood that would have a good school for Daisy, they rented a one-bedroom apartment in Flushing, Queens.

Despite his virtuoso training in internationally renowned institutions, Stephan was not able to find a musical position, so he decided to give private violin lessons. Although he offered a free introductory lesson, the majority of students in the area wanted to learn piano. Irmgard, who had studied to be a research librarian in Berlin, obtained a job almost immediately at the Brooklyn Public Library.

After a short time, Irmgard learned that a secretary could make one hundred dollars a week—far more than she earned as a librarian. In order to do that, she would have to learn shorthand. Unable to afford classes, she found a used primer on Gregg shorthand, studied it, and began searching for a secretarial job. Fluent in German and English, and now shorthand, she found a new position quickly.

Stephan applied for teaching positions in New York, including Julliard School of Music, Brooklyn College, Third Street Music School Settlement, City College, Brooklyn Academy of Music, The Mannes College of Music, and Hunter College. There were no openings at any of these institutions. He next sent a letter and resume to Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. When this too, proved to be fully staffed, Karam explored other music schools and colleges throughout the United States, sending his letter and resume to Peabody Conservatory of Music, New England Conservatory of Music,  Ohio Wesleyan, Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Ohio, The Curtis Institute of Music, Smith College , Centre College of Kentucky, Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon, Lake Forest College in Illinois, Cincinnati Conservatory of Music,  Butler University in Indianapolis, Albion College in Michigan, Heidelberg College in Ohio, Sherwood Music School in Chicago, Wittenberg College in Ohio, Occidental College in Los Angeles, Michigan State, Rollins College in Florida, MacMurray College in Illinois,  Baldwin-Wallace College in Ohio, Pacific Conservatory of Music in Stockton, CA, Alabama College, Knox College in Illinois,  Lawrence College in Wisconsin, and The Conservatory of Music in Kansas City, MO.

On February 7, 1955, Siegmund Lavarie, Chairman of the Department of Music in Brooklyn College replied to Karam, “Thank you for calling our attention to your excellent qualifications. I shall gladly keep you in mind for the right occasion.”

On May 3, 1955, Viktor Libunski, the Director of the Conservatory of Music in Kansas City, MO, wrote, “I have your letter of application dated April, 22. I regret to inform you that we shall have no openings in the near future in your line of specialization. I would like, however, to file your application for future reference. I feel certain that with your splendid qualifications you will find the kind of position you are seeking.”

On May 5, 1955, Richard Franko Goldman, Chairman of the Literature and Materials of Music Department at Julliard, sent a note to Karam “Dean Schubert has forwarded to me your letter and the material accompanying it. I regret to say that there are no openings whatsoever in the Literature and Materials of Music Department. I am very happy, however, to learn of your experience and qualifications and I am sure that many institutions will be interested in hearing from you.”

On Sunday, December 4, 1955, at 5:00 p.m., Karam gave a violin recital sponsored by the Iranian Armenian Youth Society in New York. Eugenia Afanassian-Rodcevitch accompanied him at the piano. The program included Karam’s Adagio from Sonata in C.

In 1957 Karam joined Local 802, the Musicians Union.

Finally, in 1957, he obtained a position as first violinist with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. That same year, Irmgard secured a position as the executive secretary to the Vice President of Pablo P. Mueller, the second largest coal exporter in the world at the time. The family’s tenuous financial situation improved slightly, but the economic struggle continued for most of his life.

Irmgard managed the money they earned extremely well, but the brevity of the concert season at that time made it impossible to collect unemployment insurance. Additionally, the expenses incurred while living away from home in order to work, were considerable.

Karam performed as first violinist under Maestro Vladimir Golschmann, the French-American conductor, for four years: From 1957-1958 with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and from 1958-1961 with the Tulsa Symphony Orchestra. At the end of 1961 and February of 1962 Karam was on tour with the Boston Pops, Arthur Fielder conducting.  He also performed with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, among others.

From October 6 to December 10, 1963, Karam toured with the New England Opera Company. He also appeared as a soloist in New York and Chicago.

On May 8, 1961, Karam wrote to the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra requesting an audition. On May 9th, Edmund Cooke, the personnel manager, asked Karam to audition on May 12th.

On Sunday, June 25, 1961, Karam gave a violin recital at Thorne Hall on Northwestern University’s Chicago campus, with Nell Warda at the piano. The Assyrian American Federation—an organization whose purpose was and is the perpetuation of Assyrian culture, language and heritage, as well as to care for the aged and help with education and immigration, arranged the concert, and requested public relations material from Mr. Karam. He had none to give because all of those articles, along with his other possessions, had been lost during the war in Europe. The only material he found in his father’s papers, which were sent to him from Iran, was a photograph in a Belgian newspaper with the caption, “The virtuoso violinist, Karam, whom you will hear again soon on Radio-Conférence.

By 1963, Karam had lived in America nine years, and was becoming discouraged. In addition to his exemplary education abroad, Karam had letters of recommendation from esteemed professionals in America. Dr. Parviz Mahmoud, the conductor and theory teacher at Dubuque University, Mr. William Tsu, teacher at  Mannes College, and Mrs. Sophie Ides, former assistant professor at Brussels Royal Conservatory, all wrote laudatory reference letters, but work in the classical music world was scarce. Therefore, he sent a letter of inquiry to the Bernischer Orchesterverein in Bern, Switzerland, asking if there was a position available as a first violinist. They replied that nothing was available. In 1964, he wrote to Tonhalle-Gesellschaft in Zurich, seeking a position. They replied that they had nothing available.

In the fall of 1965, Karam was hired by the Denver Symphony Society as first violinist at a salary of $120.00 per week. He continued to play with them until the spring of 1966.

In Montreal, he played in a chamber music concert on Sunday, the first of March, at 8:30 PM at the Conservatoire de Musique. Violinist Hidetaro Suzuki, at that time the concert master of the Quebec symphony orchestra, played with him.

The adagio movement of “Symphonie Iranienne” had its world premiere on Sunday, February 9, 1964. It was performed by the American Symphony Orchestra of New York with Enrico Leidi conducting.  WQXR, the radio station of the New York Times, broadcast the performance from the Brooklyn Museum, live to an audience of several million listeners.

Although his wife and daughter attended the event, Karam, who in the spring and fall of 1964 was playing first violin with the Quebec Symphony Orchestra, was unable to hear this first performance until Irmgard sent him a tape of the premiere. On the day of the performance, the staff in charge at Nola Studio, whose job it was to record the performance, and who had been working with WQXR for thirty years, forgot to turn on the sound equipment and there was no recording of the concert at all.  Irmgard, who had been worried about the possibility of such a mishap,  had called William Tsu, the family friend who was a cellist and taught at Mannes, requesting that he not accompany her and Daisy to the concert but instead asked him to stay at home and record the entire program, since he had such fine sound equipment. He did so, and thereby saved the performance on tape.

From 1963-1965 Karam played with the Quebec Symphony Orchestra under Maestro W. Pelletier.

In March 1965, while Karam was in his second season, the Quebec Symphony Orchestra performed the second and third movements of “Symphonie Iranienne” several times under the baton of Francoys Bernier.

After its initial performance in Quebec, the music reviewer of the Journal “Soleil”, wrote: “With the Adagio and Finale of ‘Symphonie Iranienne’ all the exoticism of the Near East was revived…The musicians gave a brilliant performance of this gigantic work.”

The Quebec Chronicle-Telegraph of March 3, 1965 contained an article entitled “Iran-inspired Symphony at QSO Thursday Matinee.” The reviewer described the symphony as a work “inspired by the folk music of the composer’s native Persia, which is combined with classical Greek modes to produce a tranquil, contemplative composition.”

Karam continued playing with the Quebec Symphony Orchestra from the fall of 1965 to the spring of 1966—two more concert seasons.

On April 29, 1965, Stephan Karam wrote a letter to the Shah of Iran, in which he introduced himself as the composer of “Symphonie Iranienne.”  In this correspondence, Karam expresses his admiration for Reza Shah Pahlavi, the father of the then current shah. He governed Iran (Persia) from December 1925 until September 1941, when he was forced to abdicate by the Anglo-Soviet invasion of Iran.  Stephan respected the former head of state for his enlightened views and his encouragement of Iranian youth. The former Shah had urged his countrymen to learn about and from foreign cultural institutions. Because Karam won European prizes as a student, the Persian government, under the former shah, granted a certain amount of assistance to Karam, which was helpful because Mesrop Khan, Stephan’s father, had spent a large amount of money on all of his children’s Western education.

In his 1965 letter, Karam expressed to the current Shah that he had promised to compose a work honoring his homeland, and that despite his many struggles in achieving that goal, especially in view of the war which created countless miseries, he was satisfied that he had kept his promise.

In May of 1965, the Shah of Iran and Farah Diba, the Shahbanu, toured Canada. Karam, in another attempt to make their Imperial Majesties aware of his symphony, left a letter with Captain Stock, one of the Governor-General’s Aides-de-Camp. On May 31st, A.G. Cherrier, the Assistant Secretary to the Governor-General, at Government House in Ottawa, wrote to Karam that the letter was immediately given to General Djam, Military Aide-de-Camp to his Imperial Majesty, and wrote that because their Imperial Majesties had such a heavy schedule, it may be some time before their staff were able to reply to all correspondence.

On September 29, 1965, Karam wrote a letter to Dr. Pahleboud, the director of the State Secretariat of Fine Arts in Tehran. In that letter, Karam informs Dr. Pahleboud of a meeting he had in New York with Dr. Zenouzi, at Dr. Zenouzi’s invitation. Karam explained that he had decided, decades earlier, to dedicate his symphony to Reza Shah Pahlavi because of the assistance he (Karam) had obtained from the Iranian government so that he could continue his studies. Dr. Zenouzi discussed the suggestion, put forth in Tehran that Karam should participate in the festivities of the twenty fifth hundred anniversary of the Persian Empire. Karam wrote in this letter to Dr. Pahleboud that he was most willing to be a part of this event, providing that such an invitation be expressed officially and  confirmed by the Iranian government department concerned with the organization of the celebration—as it would naturally have to be.

On December 20, 1966, Karam sent a letter to Her Royal Highness, Princess Ashraf Pahlavi. In it, he enclosed copies of his letter, written on April 29, 1965, to his Imperial Majesty, the Shahanshah Aryamehr (the official title of the Shah of Iran) and a letter addressed to His Excellency, Dr. Pahleboud, dated September 29, 1965. In this letter to Princess Ashraf, Karam summarized all that he had done to attempt to make the Iranian cultural officials aware of his symphony. He explained in this letter that upon learning of the visit of their Imperial Majesties’ State Visit to Canada on May 19, 1965, Karam flew to Ottawa for the purpose of personally submitting the recordings of his “Symphonie Iranienne”, one performed by the Quebec Symphony Orchestra on March 4, 1965, and the other performed by the American symphony of New York at the Brooklyn Museum on February 9, 1964.  He delivered the recordings and letter at Government House, which was acknowledged by the Asst. Secretary to the Governor-General. Additionally, Karam submitted a copy of the letter that he had written to the Shah of Iran, to Ambassador Kia.

He never received a response from the Princess.

On January 5, 1967, William J. Mitchell of the Department of Music at Columbia University in New York wrote a letter of recommendation for Karam, in which he wrote “I have had an opportunity to meet Mr. Stephan Karam and to review his musical career. He showed me a curriculum vitae along with two certificates from the Conservatoire Royal de Musique of Brussels, and two from the Mozarteum in Salzburg. All of the documents indicate a solid training in violin performance, harmony, counterpoint, and composition. Quite aside from his impressive ability as a violinist and composer, it is apparent from the record that his training is equivalent in thoroughness and comprehensiveness to that obtainable at our best conservatories and schools of music.”

On January 16, 1967, J. Dayton Smith, chairman of the Music Department of San Diego State College wrote to Karam, acknowledging receipt of Karam’s letter expressing an interest in a faculty position in the field of chamber music. Smith requested letters of recommendation, etc. However, the college sent Karam a job description in which they stated that they preferred an age range of under 35.

On April 13, 1967, the San Fernando Valley State College wrote a letter to Karam acknowledging the receipt of Karam’s letter and tape, which they were returning under separate cover. Mr. Wiggins, the chairman of the department of music, wrote that “because of the recent economies effected by the new State administration, we will be unable to fill our violin position.”

On March 8, 1966, Irmgard wrote to Lutton Music Personnel Service, an agency specializing in placing teachers, inquiring if there were teaching positions open in the summer, as Karam wanted to work year-round.

On March 10, 1966, Lutton, wrote to Karam that “There is a limited number of schools in the U.S. who can hire persons without American degree backgrounds.” Bert Lutton, the Assistant Manager, added that there are “extremely few summer openings at any time.”

In August 1966 Karam tried to find employment as a teacher via the National Teacher Placement Service, which was located in Champagne, Illinois. A letter Karam received in 1967 from State University College in Oswego, New York, stated that they were looking for “a young man” to direct their college orchestra, among other duties. At that point, Karam’s age (59) was a detriment.

Nevertheless, on April 18, 1967, Irmgard wrote a letter to Lutton mentioning that chamber music groups had recently been formed at various colleges and universities.  She inquired if, in addition to seeking a teaching position, this might be a possibility for her husband. Karam filled out an application for Lutton, indicating on his application, that in addition to his other skills, he was able to conduct college choir. He also wrote that he was seeking a position teaching violin, chamber music, harmony, counterpoint, fugue, and music history and appreciation.

From October 2, 1966, to November 20, 1966, Karam performed a concert tour with Century Artists, a management company that was housed in 609 Fifth Ave, New York.

When Karam was traveling professionally, Irmgard wrote letters to try to secure future employment. On October 20, 1966, she wrote to Professor Earl C. Melendy, the head of the music department at Indiana State University. The university was organizing a string quartet and Irmgard indicated that her husband might be interested in participating.

On July 27, 1967, Karam wrote a letter regarding his interest in Berea College, Department of Music, to Dr. Rolf Hovey, the chairman.

On July 30, 1967, Henry Woodward, chairman of the music department at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, wrote a letter to Irmgard Karam regarding Stephan’s interest in an interim position teaching violin that while the department “felt that your husband would be eminently qualified”, they had decided on another teacher who accepted the position.

On August 24, 1967, Mrs. Margaret Brown, the director of the Cadek Conservatory of Music at the University of Chattanooga sent a letter that the position had been filled and that they regret that they are not able to meet Karam in person.

On October 19, 1967, Earl E. Dawson, President of Lincoln University in Jefferson City, MO, wrote a letter that Karam had been recommended by the Head of the Department of Music, Chairman of the Division of Fine Arts and Administrative Dean for appointment to the staff of Lincoln University as Instructor of Music, effective November 1, 1967, and ending June 30, 1968, at a salary of $650.00 per month ($5,200 for the eight months period).

In 1967, Karam played in the first violin section of the North Carolina Symphony during its 22nd annual tour. The tour lasted about seven weeks.  In later years, Stephan taught in the music departments of various colleges in the United States.

In June 1968 Rodney Ash, the Chairman of the division of music at Western State College in Gunnison, Colorado, requested a tape recording of Karam’s playing.  In September 1968 Karam joined the music faculty, as associate professor of music, at Western State. The contract he signed on August 22, 1968, shows a salary of $8,868.00 for the academic year (fall, winter and spring quarters) payable in twelve equal monthly installments, commencing in September 1968.  He was assigned apartment 11, Coronado Hall, for the fall quarter On September 19, 1968,

On September 19, 1968, Stephan Karam applied for naturalization.

On February 28, 1969, Harlan Bryant, the president of Western State, wrote to Karam that based upon recommendation of the chairman of the music division and the dean of faculty, he was recommending that the Trustees extend Karam’s contract for a second year.

On April 10, 1969, Karam gave a violin recital on the campus at Quigley Hall at 8:00 p.m., accompanied by Dr. Rodney Ash on piano. The program included Schubert’s duo in A, Bach’s Chaconne for Unaccompanied Violin, Beethoven’s sonata, “The Spring”, and Franck’s “Sonata in A.”

A memorandum dated December 1, 1969, from Rodney Ash to Dean Bjork asked that Mr. Karam be granted a third annual contract and that he be promoted to the 9th step level. In that memo, Dr. Ash added, “He performed a faculty solo recital on the violin which was well received.”

In 1969 his salary was $9,554.76 for the academic year (fall, winter and spring quarters), payable in ten equal monthly installments commencing with the month of September, 1969. This included $194.76 for twelve months insurance. The contract indicated Karam was associate professor of music.

In 1970, Karam became a naturalized American citizen.

In 1970, Karam formed a partnership with a family friend, George Bienkowski, in order to self-publish a recording. Karam named the company Ionia Records. The album was titled “Stephan Karam, Violin.” Alexander Alexey accompanied at the piano. In addition to famous classical works, Karam performed his own “Adagio from Sonata in C for Violin and Piano,” copyright 1969; his “Cadenza for Devil’s Trill Sonata” by Tartini, copyright 1969.

Neither Karam nor young Bienkowski had any business experience, but with the help of Irmgard, they managed to produce this album from its inception. They learned as they went along. They ordered one thousand, 12” mono records (stereo was more expensive), had them collated into jackets, and shrink wrapped. They designed and learned about labels, mastering a record, and test records. They sent one carton of twenty-five records to Safeway in Gunnison. Twenty-two records were sold, at $2.50 per record.

Rexall Drug Store in Gunnison also ordered a carton

Karam and Bienkowski had no advertising budget, but placed a full page ad in the July/August 1970 issue of The Assyrian Star magazine, in hopes that the American-Assyrian community might be interested in purchasing an album. Malcolm Karam, the editor, was Stephan’s cousin. Stephan donated twenty-five cents per record sold to the Assyrian-American Federation Welfare Council. The retail price of the record was $3.50 per album.  

In late winter of 1971 or early winter of 1972, Karam applied for a passport in order to be able to travel to Iran. In the application, Karam gives the approximate departure date as spring 1972, and indicates that this would be in response to an invitation by the Iranian Ministry of Culture and Arts.

Karam gave a private concert at the home of a member of the Knights of Malta in New York. When the gentleman learned of Karam’s numerous attempts to contact the Iranian court regarding his symphony, he went through diplomatic channels and acted as an intermediary on Karam’s behalf.

Finally, in 1973, Farah Diba, Empress of Iran, invited Stephan Karam to Iran in appreciation of his remembrance of his homeland by composing the Symphony Iranienne. He traveled to Teheran and spent three weeks there. He was invited to return the following year to conduct his symphony in Rudaki Hall, but died beforehand, at the age of sixty-six on October 22, 1974, in New York, after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage.

Irmgard Karam tried diligently to bring attention to Stephan’s musical contribution so that the work would not be lost. In 1979 she contacted Cyrus Forough, Laureate of the Tchaikovsky International Violin Competition, at that time teaching in Bloomington, IN, to ask him to play the violin solo of Karam’s “Symphonie Iranienne”, which was to be performed in Germany.  She sent him the tape of “Symphonie Iranienne” and he replied on February 3, 1979, that his preparation was coming along well and that the upcoming performance would revive the memory of Stephan Karam and his artistry.

After much effort, on March 28, 1979, the Philharmonisches Orchester Bad Reichenhall in Germany performed the entire “Symphonie Iranienne”, thereby calling it the world premiere.

Dr. Wilhelm Barth conducted. Dr. Barth paid tribute to the work of the composer in the program notes: “It is quite difficult to describe the style of Karam, who besides his Symphonie Iranienne, left behind works for violin, mostly sonatas and chamber music. His compositions show the struggle which the author had to undergo in order to reconcile the contrary elements of Persian monodic music, bound to no rhythmic order, seemingly freely improvised, with the strict rules of European symphonic music and counterpoint.”

In its review “Premiere of ‘Symphonie Iranienne’, An Interesting End of the Subscription Concert Series of the Bad Reichenhall Philharmonic Orchestra”, The Freilassinger Anzeiger wrote, “With the sixth and final concert of the Bad Reichenhall Philharmonic Orchestra’s winter concert series, its conductor, Dr. Wilhelm Barth, prepared a particularly interesting evening for the music lovers in this Bavarian venue. In the Great Hall of the State Spa House, he led the orchestra in the world premiere of Symphonie Iranienne, the creation of the Persian composer Stephan Karam, who lived from 1908-1974. The premiere of this work did not fail to have its effect owing to the diligence of the conductor’s study and the enthusiasm of the orchestra’s members, which garnered well-deserved applause.

The Persian virtuoso violinist, Cyrus Forough, who has come from the USA to perform the violin solo of Symphonie Iranienne, masterfully played the complex, challenging variations. Representing Stephan Karam, his widow took his place and accepted the applause of the music lovers.

On April 3, 1979, the Salzburger Volksblatt published a review of the debut entitled “Applause for a Symphony from Iran” – A Work by Stephan Karam had its premiere in Bad Reichenhall.

In his review, the music critic discussed the challenges Karam faced in composing a symphony in the Western classical tradition while retaining the Persian musical spirit.  “The Lied-like Adagio has romance character. The Presto movement (Rondo) concludes the work. Here in the last movement the nationality of the composer finds its strongest expression.” He concluded, “The extremely attractive work was very well received by the large audience in the Big Hall of the Staatliche Kurhaus, and the performance by the Philharmonic Orchestra under Dr. Wilhelm Barth got strong and long lasting applause. During this premiere we heard the young Iranian violinist, Cyrus Forough, who played the solo violin part of Karam’s symphony. His excellent performance achieved absolutely international standard.”

 

 


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