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World Music Series Opens with Oud Virtuoso Simon Shaheen and the World Premiere of His New DSO Commissioned Work

posted on: Oct 6, 2008


The Detroit Symphony Orchestra launches a new season of World Music this fall with a melodic voyage to the Middle East showcasing virtuoso musician Simon Shaheen and his ensemble Qantara. One of the most significant Arab performers and composers of his generation, Shaheen’s work incorporates and reflects a rich legacy of Arabic music while embracing diverse styles ranging from jazz to Western classical. Internationally acclaimed for his mastery of the oud and violin, Shaheen joins the DSO to perform the World Premiere of his brand new composition commissioned by the DSO, Concerto No. 1 for Oud and Orchestra.

On the podium will be Tito Muñoz, Assistant Conductor of The Cleveland Orchestra. The first performance of the DSO’s 2008-09 Northwest Airlines World Music Series, this concert takes place Sunday, October 19 at 3 p.m. in Orchestra Hall.

Simon Shaheen’s unique contribution to the world of arts was recognized in 1994 when he was honored with the prestigious National Heritage Award at the White House. A Palestinian born in the village of Tarshiha in the Galilee, Shaheen’s father was a professor of music and a master oud player (a pear-shaped, stringed instrument that is a predecessor of the western lute). The younger Shaheen began playing oud at the age of five, and a year later he began studying violin at the Conservatory for Western Classical Music in Jerusalem. 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 to complete 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 group Near Eastern Music Ensemble to perform the highest standard of traditional Arab music. Since 1994, he has produced the annual Arab Festival of Arts in New York, called “Mahrajan al-Fan,” which presents the work of the finest Arab artists encompassing a broad scope of Arab culture. In 1997 he founded the Annual Arabic Music Retreat, held each summer at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts. As a composer, Shaheen has received numerous grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York State Council on the Arts, Meet the Composer and others. His theatrical repertoire includes Majnun Layla, The Book and the Stranger (from Kalilah Wa-Dimanah), Possible City and Collateral Damage with Vanessa Redgrave. In addition to performing with his two bands, the Near Eastern Music Ensemble and Qantara, Shaheen tours internationally as a solo artist and serves as a lecturer throughout the academic world promoting awareness of Arab music.
Qantara, 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, transcending boundaries of genre and geography.

In 2001, Shaheen and Qantara made their full length recording debut with a Blue Flame which earned eleven Grammy Award nominations. National Public Radio called the release “a staggering tour-de-force of technique and passion” while the College Music Journal labeled it “a new benchmark in Arab-Western fusion.” Traveling throughout the U.S., Europe and the Middle East, Qantara’s appearances have included the Beiteddine Festival in Lebanon, New York’s Central Park Summer Stage, the Chicago World Music Festival, the International Souk Ukaz at the historic citadel in Amman, Jordan and the Yabous Festival in the historical Tombs of Kings in East Jerusalem.

25-year-old conductor Tito Muñoz is currently Assistant Conductor of The Cleveland Orchestra, appointed by Franz Welser-Möst in April 2007, and a League of American Orchestras Conducting Fellow. He previously served as Assistant Conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra. An alumnus of the National Conducting Institute, Muñoz made his professional conducting debut in 2006 with the National Symphony Orchestra. This performance marks Muñoz’s debut appearance with the DSO.

Upcoming performances in the Northwest Airlines 2008-09 World Music Series include the Song and Dance Ensemble of West Africa on November 9; A Celtic Christmas with Natalie MacMaster on December 7; the National Acrobats of China on February 22; and the Art of Bellydancing featuring the Bellydance Superstars! on March 29. All concerts begin at 3 p.m. and take place in Orchestra Hall.

Tickets for the Northwest Airlines World Music Series range in price from $19 to $50 with a limited number of box seats available for $65. They may be purchased at the Max M. Fisher Music Center box office (3711 Woodward Ave., Detroit); by logging onto; or at (313) 576-5111. For group discount information, contact Chuck Dyer at (313) 576-5130 or

Students of any age from any Detroit-area institution may purchase tickets to all DSO concerts in October for only $5 in celebration of Student Month. These tickets are available at the box office or by phone only, and students must present a valid school ID (if applicable) when purchasing or picking up tickets.

Northwest Airlines World Music Series
Detroit Symphony Orchestra
Tito Muñoz, conductor; Simon Shaheen, oud; Qantara

Sunday, October 19 at 3 p.m.

SHAHEEN Concerto No. 1 for Oud and Orchestra (Commissioned by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, World Premiere)

Additional selections to be announced from the stage.

Photo caption:

Simon Shaheen