Posted on October 29, 2017 | 9:00 a.m.
UCSB Arts & Lectures presents Palestinian ‘oud and violin virtuoso Simon Shaheen with an ensemble at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 15, at UCSB Campbell Hall.
Shaheen is billed as one of the most significant Arab musicians, performers and composers of his generation.
An internationally acclaimed interpreter of traditional Arabic sounds, Shaheen’s 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.
Shaheen leaps from traditional Arabic sounds to jazz and Western classical styles. His work incorporates traditional Arabic music while it forges ahead to new frontiers, embracing many different styles in the process.
His 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).
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 called the record “stunning,” National Public Radio called it “a staggering tour-de-force of technique and passion.”
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 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 said.
He began playing on the ‘oud at 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,” Shaheen said.
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.
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.
Shaheen’s concert credits are impressive: Carnegie Hall, Kennedy Center, Cairo’s Opera House, Theatre de la Ville in Beirut and Belgium’s Le Palais des Arts.
In May 2004, he appeared at Quincy Jones’ We Are the Future fundraising concert in Rome before 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.
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.
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.
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.
Shaheen is presented by UCSB Arts & Lectures. Media Sponsors are KCBX 89.5 FM Santa Barbara and KCSB 91.9 FM.
Tickets are $25-$38 for the general public, $10 for UCSB students with valid student ID. For tickets and more information, call UCSB Arts & Lectures, 893-3535 or visit www.ArtsAndLectures.UCSB.edu.
UCSB Arts & Lectures is supported by SAGE Publishing for the 2017-18 season.
— Caitlin O’Hara for UCSB Arts & Lectures.