Deutsche Grammophon signs its first Iranian

Here’s a little sliver of life from the music biz:

Some time in 2010, I was contacted by a young artist who was frustrated at his agent’s inability to get him a date at the BBC Proms. He had a brilliant idea – to perform the Goldberg Variations on the harpsichord, never done before at the Proms – so I told him to get in touch with the Proms director Roger Wright, who knew his track record as a BBC Young Generation Artist.

Too shy himself to make the cold call, I emailed Roger and asked if he’d like to hear from the young man. He did, and the rest is on the record.

Months later, at the launch party for the 2011 Proms, I was chatting to a peer of the realm when an incandescent little man butted in and yelled into my face: ‘Norman, you have just ruined that young man’s career.’

‘Go away,’ I said.

‘Who was that?’ asked the noble Lord.

‘An agent,’ I replied.


Before the week was out, the apoplectic agent fired his young harpsichordist. Another agent stepped in without much delay. The young man has since gone from strength to strength, with recordings on the niche Hyperion label and many international engagements.


mahan esfahani nl

His name is Mahan Esfahani. This afternoon, I am thrilled to reveal, he is going to sign a record contract with Deutsche Grammophon, a summit moment in any artist’s career. Tonight, he will play Bach at the Bristol Proms with Avi Avital – an Iranian and an Israeli in blessed perfect harmony. ‘As a musician I like to think out of the box,’ says Mahan, ‘and here is a label with the same attitude.’

And the agent? …. He’s still an agent.


mahan signing

Signing scene.

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  • This is one of the most timely events in the musical arena of today, and shines an even brighter light on what this man has done, not just for the harpsichord, but for music.

  • This is wonderful news about a very fine artist. It reflects well on DG too. And we should be grateful, Norman, for your pointing Mahan towards Roger Wright.

  • “He is going to sign a record contract with Deutsche Grammophon, a summit moment in any artist’s career”????? Au contraire, Norman: DGG maintains a huge cemetery of such young artists who made 1 recording for them, only to get kicked off the label by some idiot bean-counter for lack of sales. Esfahani should have stayed with Hyperion: they don’t delete their recordings after a only brief period on the market (as all the major labels do when they don’t see mega-sales, which is why so many young artists die on the vine). Major labels are fool’s gold: Unless an artist plays 150 concerts annually world-wide, major labels are a huge mistake for fledgling artists. Boutique labels support unknown artists, whereas major labels simply bury them.

      • It’s not that simple, Norman: It doesn’t matter how many discs they signed him up for, because they can simply buy him out of his contract (which happens all the time). By the time Mahan’s 1st disc is released, the A&R person who scouted him could be fired, the current CEO sacked, and the entire label sold — to someone who will say “Who is this Mahan?” Indeed, let’s wish him well, but per the history of major labels, the cards are stacked against him. To site one example: Pianist Naida Cole had a 3-album deal with Decca, but somehow the 1 CD she made got released on DGG, and then she was dumped — and there’s many other such stories.

        • Huh? Naida Cole has two records on universal, both of which were released (at least for a time) with the Decca labeling. See one example here.

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