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In concert: Simon Shaheen at the Atlas Performing Arts Center

shaheen1.jpgPalestinian multi-instrumentalist Simon Shaheen moved freely between east and west on Saturday night. (All photos by Kyle Gustafson/FTWP)

By Mark Jenkins

New York-based Palestinian performer Simon Shaheen’s work is generally categorized as “world music,” despite his Western classical training.

Saturday at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, Shaheen moved easily between worlds, playing both violin and oud, a teardrop-shaped lute. But the liveliest moments were rooted in traditional Arab music.

The concert was sponsored by the Library of Congress, which commissioned the evening’s world premiere, “The Call.” Shaheen played violin in a melancholy mode that suggested Eastern European folk music, his melodic phrases alternately echoed or doubled by pianist Jason Lindner. The piece was inspired, its composer explained, by a desire to compel a statue of a woman to dance. Despite Michel Merhej’s cantering percussion, however, the composition didn’t kick up its heels until its brief coda.

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Also stately and mournful, in large part, were two pieces alluding to events in the Middle East: “The Wall,” inspired by the Israeli-Palestinian separation barrier, and “Iraq,” the name of both a country and a classical Arab maqam (a melodic motif similar in purpose to an Indian raga). Now joined by Shaheen’s brother William (also on oud and violin), the musicians conjured a sense of loss that was more wistful than angry.

These numbers were flanked by more upbeat ones, both showcases for improvisation. In the opener, Shaheen played the oud alone, sometimes bending notes in the Indo-Persian style. The encore allowed all four players to solo, gave Shaheen a chance to play the tambourine-like tar and spurred audience members to clap along. The result came much closer to the sort of music that might compel a statue to dance.

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By Ally Schweitzer  |  May 10, 2010; 12:25 PM ET
Categories:  In concert  | Tags: Simon Shaheen  
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