Arash Safaian, composer

Who or what inspired you to take up composing, and pursue a career in music?

The joy of music itself.

Who or what were the most significant influences on your musical life and career as a composer?

Hard to say. I think playing the piano and Bach’s counterpoint encouraged and inspired me the most. But also Beethoven, rock music of the 90s and 2000s, and Richard Wagner’s operas.

What have been the greatest challenges/frustrations of your career so far?

I believe the greatest challenge for today’s composers is that contemporary classical music is still not seen as an undeniable part of the classical music world. Worshipping the great masters of the past has been for a long time the main aspiration for musicians all over the world. But a lot is moving in an exciting direction right now.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working on a commissioned piece?

I find the most challenging part is to fulfill the scope of a commission together with my very personal creative musical ideas. It takes some time, but it’s worth it and it works.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working with particular musicians, singers, ensembles and orchestras?

Each orchestra and each ensemble is a different organism. It’s always very interesting to observe how the same music becomes a different temper by different musicians. That’s what makes classical music so special and beautiful.

Of which works are you most proud?

Honestly, I like all of them as each one describes a period of my life. But certainly ÜberBach is very important to me. Back then I learned that music only really creates new energy if it imparts your own truth. And I knew that the “new” was not what was we called contemporary classical music. The cold expressiveness and distancing from the musical language was no longer an answer. With ÜberBach I wanted to achieve the complete opposite, which was to search for beauty, form, states and emotions. But above all artistic freedom. I am very happy to have written ÜberBach. It was a very happy time of my life.

How would you characterize your compositional language?

Music, for me, is the mathematics of emotions. These two elements make the principle of beauty and without one or the other, art makes no sense to me. I think that describes best what my art is all about.

How do you work?

Most of my composing works take place in my head: Then I start improvising on the piano and work it out on paper. But it can be different every time depending on the instrumentation.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

First and foremost, Bach is my favourite.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

When my scores become music through musicians and then feelings in people.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

The most important concept for an artist must always be found in his own language, his or her own expression. No master class or tradition can teach or tell you what you have already known deep inside yourself. You have to let your ego go.

What do you feel needs to be done to grow and maintain classical music’s audiences?

I believe it’s crucial to honour the existing heritage of classical music but concert halls and recording studios should not concentrate mainly on composers of the past. If we give more space to the voices of our time we will quickly reach wider audiences and make classical music more accessible. We could learn from the visual arts: it always will be fascinating for people to go to Paris and see the Mona Lisa at Louvre. But luckily the Centre Pompidou is more or less just around the corner – and it’s very crowded there. For me the lesson from all the history is, that unacademic contemporary music is always the most direct and honest way to communicate to the people of your own time.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

In a room full of sculptures and other pieces of art, with a view into nature.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

To be inspired.

What is your most treasured possession?

My family, my friends and the music in my head.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Discovering things. Besides music, especially things that trigger a new aesthetic fascination. It may sound very weird, but it’s true. It can even be a mathematical discovery, just like my weakness, new interesting perfumes.


Arash Safaian is artist, composer and producer. He is the son of artist Ali Akbar Safaian, an important representative of Iranian modernism. Born in Teheran, he grew up in Bayreuth, where he was exposed to Richard Wagner’s operas at an early age. Alongside his interest in music, painting and sculpture shaped his childhood and youth. He studied painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Nürnberg and showed his series of pictures in solo and group exhibitions, before moving to the Munich College of Music and Drama to study composition. There he studied with Jan Müller-Wieland and Pascal Dusapin and film music with Enjott Schneider. He has made his mark as a composer with orchestral works, ensemble pieces, film music and operas – in New York (“on the beach”) at the Baryshnikov Arts Center, in Berlin (“Der Schuss 2-6-1967”) at Oper Neukölln and in Munich (“At Stake”) at the Opera Biennale. Safaian has won the Composition Prize of the Reinl Foundation in Vienna, the Günther Bialas Prize, Bavaria’s e-on Arts Prize and the ECHO:KLASSIK 2017 for his Piano Concerto Cycle “ÜberBach” and Bavarian Filmprice 2019 for Best Filmmusic for his LARA-Score and Piano Concerto. He has held scholarships from the Villa Concordia Bamberg, the City of Munich and Cité des artes Paris. Arash Safaian lives and works in Munich.

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Artist photo: Philipp Ernst

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