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Kayhan Kalhor
Kayhan Kalhor 20171226 08 (cropped).jpg
Kayhan Kalhor in 2017
Background information
Born (1963-11-24) 24 November 1963 (age 60)
Tehran, Iran
Genres Iranian traditional music
Kurdish music
Occupation(s) Kamancheh player, composer
Instruments Kamancheh, Setar
Years active 1973–present
Associated acts Brooklyn Rider
Silk Road Ensemble

Kayhan Kalhor (Persian: کیهان کلهر, Kurdish: کەیھان کەڵھوڕ, born 24 November 1963) is an Iranian-Kurdish kamancheh and setar player and vocalist composer and master of classical Iranian traditional music.

Early life and education

Kayhan Kalhor was born in Tehran to a Kurdish family. He began studying music at the age of seven. By the age of thirteen, he was playing in the National Orchestra of Radio and Television of Iran. Continuing his music studies under various teachers, he studied in the Iranian radif tradition and also travelled to study in the northern part of Khorasan province, where music traditions have Kurdish and Turkic influences as well as Persian. At a musical conservatory in Tehran, Kalhor worked under the directorship of Mohammad-Reza Lotfi who is from the north-east of Iran. Kalhor also travelled in the northwestern provinces of Iran. At age 17, he left Iran and moved to Italy to study music in Rome. He migrated to Italy by land, walking through Turkey, Romania, and Yugoslavia, picking up menial farm work along the way to support himself. After studying music in Rome, he moved to Canada, where he graduated from the music program at Carleton University in Ottawa.

Four years after Kalhor left Iran, his parents and brother were killed in an Iraqi missile attack during the Iran-Iraq War.


Kayhan Kalhor performance in Vahdat Hall - 2016 (8)
Kalhor during a concert in Vahdat Hall in 2016

Kalhor has a wide range of musical influences, uses several musical instruments, and crosses cultural borders with his work, but at his center he is an intense player of the Kamancheh. In his playing Kalhor often pins Iranian classical music structures to the rich folk modes and melodies of the Kurdish tradition of Iran.

Kalhor has composed works for and played alongside the famous Iranian vocalists Mohammad Reza Shajarian and Shahram Nazeri. He has also composed and performed with the Indian sitar player Shujaat Husain Khan and Indian tabla player Swapan Chaudhuri in the group Ghazal. Kalhor's 2004 album In the mirror of the Sky was a joint venture with the Iranian lute player Ali Akbar Moradi. His 2006 album The Wind is a collaboration with the Turkish baglama virtuoso Erdal Erzincan, with both Turkish and Persian pieces performed. At other times Kalhor has collaborated with Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Project Ensemble in the US and the Kronos Quartet.

In 1991, after having graduated from Carleton University and obtained Canadian citizenship, Kalhor moved to the United States, settling in Brooklyn, New York City, and became commercially successful. By the late 1990s, he was recording solo albums that grew into collaborations with other artists. In 2000, he was invited to Massachusetts for a collaboration with dozens of international musicians, a project which grew into the Silk Road Ensemble. Two of his works were nominated for Grammy Awards in 2004.

Kalhor returned to Iran in 2002 due to increased anti-Muslim sentiment in the US following the September 11 attacks. There, he settled in Tehran and met his partner Zohreh Soltanabadi. Although he had intended to stay in Iran, he decided to leave in the aftermath of the 2009 Iranian presidential election protests and returned to the United States with Soltanabadi, where they married and settled in Cherry Valley, California.

In 2010 Kalhor composed "I was there", which was based "on a melody attributed to Ziryab, a ninth-century Iranian musician", for a Maya Beiser concert. This piece was performed by Kalhor alongside Maya Beiser, the renowned cellist Bassam Saba, an oud player, and two percussionists, Glen Velez and Matt Kilmer.

Kalhor and Soltanabadi attempted to gain permanent residency in the United States. However, shortly after their wedding, Soltanabadi's father died and she had to return to Iran to care for her mother. For the next few years they saw each other mostly by Skype and sometimes met abroad. Kalhor eventually had his application for permanent residency granted. In 2017, Soltanabadi applied for residency in the US but was refused. That same year, Kalhor was informed that the US authorities were considering revoking his legal status as a US resident. Kalhor subsequently returned to Iran. He and Soltanabadi currently live in Tehran, but he still visits the United States to give performances.


Album artists Album Release date
Ghazal Lost Songs of the Silk Road 1997
Ghazal As Night Falls on the Silk Road 1998
Kayhan Kalhor Scattering Stars Like Dust 1998
Shahram Nazeri and Dastan Ensemble Through Eternity 1999
Ghazal Moon Rise over the Silk Road 2000
Kayhan Kalhor and Mohammad Reza Shajarian Night, Silence, Desert 2000
Kronos Quartet Caravan 2000
Masters of Persian Music It's Winter 2001
Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble Silk Road Journeys: When Strangers Meet 2001
Masters of Persian Music Without You 2002
Ghazal The Rain 2003
Ali Akbar Moradi In the Mirror of the Sky 2004
Masters of Persian Music Faryad 2005
Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble Silk Road Journeys: Beyond the Horizon 2005
Kayhan Kalhor & Erdal Erzincan The Wind 2006
Masters of Persian Music Saze Khamoosh 2007
Masters of Persian Music Soroude Mehr 2007
Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble New Impossibilities 2007
Kayhan Kalhor & Brooklyn Rider Silent City 2008
Silk Road Ensemble Off the Map 2009
Kayhan Kalhor & Madjid Khaladj Voices of the Shades 2011
Dresdner Sinfoniker Cinema Jenin OST 2011
Brooklyn Rider Quartet Rhino Season OST 2012
Kayhan Kalhor & Ali Bahrami Fard I Will Not Stand Alone 2012
Kayhan Kalhor & Erdal Erzincan Kula Kulluk Yakişir Mi 2013
Kayhan Kalhor & Brooklyn Rider Layers of Darkness 2014
Hawniyaz Hawniyaz 2016
Silk Road Ensemble The Music of Strangers†§ 2017
Silk Road Ensemble Sing me home†§ 2017
Kayhan Kalhor & Rembrandt Frerichs Trio It's Still Autumn 2019

† Nominated for a Grammy Award

§ Won a Grammy Award

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Kayhan Kalhor para niños

  • Silk Road Project, Silk Road Ensemble
  • Dastgah
  • Music of Iran
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