The Guardian: Mahan Esfahani – ‘The harpsichord is like the posh, pretty boy in prison’

The Guardian
Rachel Cooke

Mahan Esfahani was nine when he first heard a harpsichord. He and his parents were visiting Iran, the country where he was born, and which his family had left for the US five years before. “An uncle gave me a bunch of cassettes,” he says. “One was of Karl Richter [the German conductor and harpsichordist] playing Bach. Well, I listened to it, and I thought: ‘This is what I’ve got to do.’ I don’t mean in terms of a career. I just thought my life would be well spent in the company of this instrument. I thought I would get a profession, which is what every Iranian parent wants for their child, and that – once I was a doctor or lawyer – I’d be able to buy a harpsichord, and play at home.”

Was it like falling in love? “Yes, absolutely it was.” Can he describe how the sound of it made him feel? He thinks for a moment: it’s hard to put into words. “When I played the flute or the violin, which I did seriously, it was as if there was a hand over my mouth. The second I played a harpsichord, it was as if the hand had been removed. This was the sound I’d been looking for to express myself.”

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