Soosan Lolavar


Teaming up with chamber group Ruthless Jabiru and conductor Kelly Lovelady, the British-Iranian composer’s scores for strings and santoor view themes of social justice through a musical lens

Soosan Lolavar’s compositions unfurl with patience. The British-Iranian composer’s melodies begin at a distance, just out of reach, then come into focus with each added note. As the music expands, it becomes fuller, weaving in contrasting motifs and textures that give each piece a sense of depth. With Girl, Lolavar uses her intuitive and fluid style to explore themes of diaspora, belonging and identity. The album collects four of Lolavar’s pieces that each highlight how she layers contrasting textures and melodies to capture the spectrum of emotions tied to reinvention and belonging.

Girl showcases Lolavar’s blended style of composition, which mixes elements from western classical and Iranian melodies into atmospheric collages. To record Girl, Lolavar teamed up with Ruthless Jabiru, a UK-based chamber orchestra of Australasian musicians led by Lolavar’s collaborative partner conductor Kelly Lovelady. The group performs music written through a social justice lens, and Lolavar and Lovelady share an interest in using music as a cross-cultural and synergistic exchange. With Girl, they seek to further that vision; each piece digs into themes such as reinventions of the diasporic self, COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns and the idea of being in a state of becoming.

Lolavar’s use of contrasts illuminates these themes, giving each piece a sense of depth and growth. In one work, she may mix a delicately bowed violin with a grumbling cello tremolo, or pair airy, raspy harmonics with low, bristling pitches, constantly transforming its musical landscape. Opener ‘I am the spring, you are the Earth’, a piece for santoor and string orchestra, begins with a faint, high-pitched violin that glacially expands into a lush ode; the santoor floats above, interweaving twinkling plucks with the orchestra’s richness. With ‘Undone’, written for de-tuned violin, Lolavar brings out the chaotic and unpredictable side of the instrument through scratchy bowings and fast-paced runs, embracing swirling uncertainty as much as the sweetness that came before. 

But it’s with ‘Tradition – Hybrid – Survival’ that Lolavar’s music feels its most heart-wrenching. Here, she packs every emotional thread of the album into one tapestry. The violin is bowed so strongly it feels as if all the hairs will snap off the bow, while the cello swirls amongst it, creating a feeling of unsteadiness. Lolavar’s music is a vector for the complexity of being: it is screaming, laughing, finding peace and sorrow at once. She never stays in one place too long, instead, with each note looks to get somewhere new, showing that becoming isn’t something that stops – it is a practice that continues to evolve.

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