Palestinian ‘oud and violin virtuoso Simon Shaheen
UCSB Arts & Lectures presents Palestinian ‘oud and violin virtuoso Simon Shaheen with ensemble on Wed., Nov. 15, at 8 p.m. at UCSB Campbell Hall
Simon Shaheen is one of the most significant Arab musicians, performers and composers of his generation. An internationally acclaimed interpreter of traditional Arabic sounds, his soaring technique, melodic ingenuity and unparalleled grace have put him at the forefront of contemporary Arabic music. For this Santa Barbara performance, he leads an ensemble of musicians through a traditional repertoire as he reflects on the legacy of Arabic music.
Simon Shaheen dazzles his listeners as he deftly leaps from traditional Arabic sounds to jazz and Western classical styles. Shaheen’s work incorporates traditional Arabic music while it forges ahead to new frontiers, embracing many different styles in the process. This unique contribution to the world of arts was recognized in 1994 when Shaheen was honored with the prestigious National Heritage Award at the White House.
In the 1990s, Shaheen released four albums: Saltanah (Water Lily Acoustics), Turath (CMP), Taqasim (Lyrichord) and Simon Shaheen: The Music of Mohamed Abdel Wahab (Axiom). He also contributed cuts to producer Bill Laswell’s fusion collective, Hallucination Engine (Island). He has contributed selections to soundtracks for The Sheltering Sky and Malcolm X, among other films, and he composed the entire soundtrack for the United Nations-sponsored documentary For Everyone Everywhere. Broadcast globally in December 1998, this film celebrated the 50th anniversary of the United Nations Human Rights Charter.
Perhaps Shaheen’s greatest success came with Blue Flame (ARK21, 2001), where he led his group, Qantara, on a labyrinthian journey through the world of fusion music to discover the heart of the Middle East. The album was nominated for 11 Grammy Awards. The Los Angeles Times proclaimed the record “stunning,” National Public Radio called it “a staggering tour-de-force of technique and passion,” CMJ called it “a new benchmark in Arab-Western fusion” and The Washington Post termed it “eminently cosmopolitan.” The band, whose name means “arch” in Arabic, brings to life Shaheen’s vision for the unbridled fusion of Arab, jazz, Western classical and Latin American music, a perfect alchemy for music to transcend the boundaries of genre and geography.
A Palestinian, born in the village of Tarshiha in the Galilee in 1955, Shaheen’s childhood was steeped in music. His father, Hikmat Shaheen, was a professor of music and a master ‘oud player.
“Learning to play on the ‘oud from my father was the most powerful influence in my musical life,” Shaheen recalls. He began playing on the ‘oud at the age of 5, and a year later studying violin at the Conservatory for Western Classical Music in Jerusalem. “When I held and played these instruments, they felt like an extension of my arms.”
After graduating from the Academy of Music in Jerusalem in 1978, Shaheen was appointed its instructor of Arab music, performance and theory. Two years later he moved to New York City to complete his graduate studies in performance at the Manhattan School of Music, and later in performance and music education at Columbia University.
In 1982, Shaheen formed the Near Eastern Music Ensemble in New York, establishing a group that would perform the highest standard of traditional Arab music. This time also marked the beginning of Shaheen’s workshops and lecture/demonstrations in schools, colleges and universities to educate the younger generation. As a champion and guardian of Arab music, Shaheen still devotes almost 50 percent of his time to working with schools and universities, including Julliard, Columbia, Princeton, Brown, Harvard, Yale, University of California, San Diego, University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and many others.
His concert credits are a veritable compendium of the world’s greatest venues: Carnegie Hall, Kennedy Center, Cairo’s Opera House, Theatre de la Ville in Beirut and Belgium’s Le Palais des Arts. In May of 2004, Shaheen appeared at Quincy Jones’ We Are the Future fundraising concert in Rome in front of a half-million-strong crowd.
As a composer, Shaheen has received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York State Council on the Arts, Meet the Composer, the Jerome Foundation, Continental Harmony and Yellow Springs Institute. In addition to his recorded work, his theatrical repertoire includes Majnun Layla, (performances included the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and The Museum of Natural History in New York), The Book and the Stranger (from Kalilah Wa-Dimanah), Possible City and Collateral Damage with actress Vanessa Redgrave. He has also written the music for the documentary of the British Museum’s Egyptian collection, which has toured U.S. museums.
Since 1994, Shaheen has produced the Annual Arab Festival of Arts, called Mahrajan al-Fan. Held in New York, the festival showcases the work of the finest Arab artists while presenting the scope, depth and quality of Arab culture. To continue this exposure to Arab music and culture, Shaheen founded the Annual Arabic Music Retreat in 1997. Held each summer at Mount Holyoke College, this weeklong intensive program of Arabic music studies draws participants from the U.S. and abroad.
In 2008, Shaheen debuted his ‘Oud Concerto which was commissioned for the Detroit Symphony and performed with the same orchestra in October of that year. Since that time, he has performed the piece in South Dakota; Beirut, Lebanon and Athens, Greece. He has since composed and performed additional works commissioned for the Library of Congress and for the Imani Winds ensemble.
In addition to performing with his two bands, Qantara and the Near Eastern Music Ensemble, Shaheen tours as a solo artist internationally and as a lecturer throughout the academic world promoting awareness to Arab music through numerous lecture and workshop presentations.
Tickets are $25-$38 for the general public and $10 for UCSB students (Valid student ID required)
For tickets and more information, call UCSB Arts & Lectures at (805) 893-3535 or visit www.ArtsAndLectures.UCSB.edu. UCSB Arts & Lectures gratefully acknowledges the generous support of SAGE Publishing for its major corporate support of the 2017-18 season.