The Sands of Time: Music from the Middle East in Concert with the Utah Philharmonia


The Stars Align.

There’s a very exciting concert ahead. I’ve been asked: Just how did this concert ever come to exist? Here’s the story:

Back in 2010, I received an unsolicited visit from Monika Jalili, a singer of Iranian/Persian music about having the School of Music donate space for a concert. Instead of a single act of charity, it was apparent that there was an opportunity to do something more. As Monika and I talked, it became clear that instead of a small ensemble concert, a more exciting collaboration might take place with orchestra. Those discussions led to a performance in 2013 with the Salt Lake Symphony of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade with Monika and her ensemble filling in between movements with traditional and popular music from the Middle East. We only had one music chart for orchestra to play along with her group back then, but even still, it was a great success. We all left the performance knowing that a future collaboration was possible sometime in the future.

Fast forward to this year, and thanks to Monika’s work getting the UofU Middle East Center onboard, and my securing a teaching grant, this concert is now a reality. The University of Utah Philharmonia will present this concert of music from the Middle East, by composers with Middle Eastern connections. (The only exception being Respighi’s Belkis: Queen of Sheba Suite, which has nonetheless has a historical and sonic roots firmly rooted there). Other music on the program includes a piece by Shalan Alhamwy, a Syrian refugee, titled Two Images from Aleppo (Thanks to my former student Mindi Davis-Loewen for introducing me to Shalan and his music); Mohammed Fairouz’s Pax Universalis; and six selections with Monika and her most versatile ensemble, Megan Gould (violin), Zeb Gould (guitar), and Shane Shanahan (percussion – and a musician with Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble). Arrangements of those pieces are by Megan Gould and Jamshied Sharifi (who recently won a Tony for his orchestrations for the musical, The Band’s Visit).

Monika publicity photo

But there is MORE. We’ve just learned that we will have members of several refugee communities in attendance at the concert. There will be a major video shoot as well. We are getting attention from places far and wide for our program. That is gratifying, to say the least.

This is a concert that is in the true spirit of collaboration: performing musicians (soloists and orchestra), support staff, outside organizations, administrative personnel, and the composers and arrangers. Now all that is left to ask, is that you join us for this special performance. It’s on December 6, smack in the middle of the “holiday” season. There is no White Christmas, Silent Night, or Nutcracker on the program, but there will be a great deal of the goodwill that makes this time of year special for people from around the globe. I am happy that we can reach out in this way with this unique and moving concert. Hope to see you there. If you cannot make it. Please join us online at:



Campus Locations Libby Gardner Concert Hall
Cost General Admission: $12.50, Arts Pass event: Free for U of U students with UCard, Non-U of U Students: $6.50, Faculty, Staff, Seniors: $6.50
Ticket URL…
Contact Name School of Music
Contact Phone 801-581-6762
Contact Email
Campus Wide Event Yes

The Utah Philharmonia presents “The Sands of Time: Journey Through the Middle East” with special guests, Monika Jalili and ensemble: Shane Shanahan, Megan Gould, and Zeb Gould. Works to be performed include Ottorino Respighi’s “Belkis Queen of Sheba Suite,” Shalan Alhamwy’s “Two Images from Aleppo”, and Mohammed Fairouz’s “Pax Universalis.” Monika Jalili and ensemble will also perform Persian songs accompanied by the Utah Philharmonic. This event is in partnership with the University of Utah Middle East Center.



1001 Concerts: A New Lens for Music

ImageThere was a different feel in the air at last night’s dress rehearsal for the Salt Lake Symphony.  The rhythm was more relaxed yet still in sync.   The phrases turned with unexpected inflection.  The musicians engaged in playing standard rep, Rimsky Korsakov’s Scheherazade, with new eyes, yet never neglecting their commitment to precision, expression and virtuosity.

Maybe it had to do something with the four musicians who were “embedded” at the front of the orchestraMonika Jalili and her ensemble have resumes that impress and validate their impressive careers.  Monka’s vocal stylings, Megan Gould’s improvised violin, and Mike Fjerstad’s rhythmic guitar accompaniments were glued together by Silk Road Ensemble percussionist Shane Shanahan.  A different vibe was apparent, and the groove was contagious!

But hold on a minute, this is an “ORCHESTRA” concert right?  And not even a “POPS” concert.  What is going on? We are taking a risk, for certain, yet in reality we are doing what we always do–presenting music that speaks across the arbitrary boundaries of nation, religion or culture.

Monika Jalili is a singer who keeps a particular tradition alive, just like symphony orchestras do.  Monika and her ensemble specialize in Iranian/Persian music, much of it banned in Iran since the 1979 revolution.  They represent a voice of music from a particular region.   The orchestral selections for the program are much the same.  Rimsky-Korsakov was a Russian composer who experienced many different cultures as a young officer in the Russian navy.  That plus the juxtaposition of Russia to several Islamic cultures made for a ripe soup from which Rimsky-Korsakov, and many other Russian composers, dipped into for inspiration.  In their hands, scales spice European roots; orchestration transform Germanic norms;  new sounds abound.  New possibility exists.

The same happened to the music of Persia/Iran.  Western influences changed the nature of folk music while retaining some of the regional characteristics. Monika’s repertoire as a singer owes as much allegiance to French café music as to the cultural ancestry from which it sprang.  The result is an attractive blend. So, this concert includes both, and my idea of “embedding” the ensemble into another piece itself is unusual.  Monika’s ensemble will play in between movements of Rimsky-Korsakov’s masterpiece as a commentary on a commentary, so to speak. But rather than sacrilege, it becomes a new lens with which to view both traditions.

Will it work?  Who knows?  Those close enough to Salt Lake City are welcome to come find out!  For certain, it will be a new way to view an old standard, and a new set of music for music of our audience as well.  Take the plunge for adventure!  Here’s the details:

Salt Lake Symphony East Meets West: Promoting Peace Through Music

Monika Jalili and her Ensemble (Mike Fjerstad, guitar; Megan Gould, violin; Shane Shanahan, percussion) Saturday November 9, 2013 7:30 pm Libby Gardner Hall—University of Utah Campus

The program, East Greets West: Promoting Peace Through Music, will feature Ms. Jalili performing traditional and currently suppressed popular music from Iran, interspersed with orchestral compositions inspired by the Middle East. Orchestral favorites will include Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, and Ippolitov-Ivanov’s Procession of the Sardar. Dervish, by composer Justin Merritt, was recently discovered by Dr. Baldwin at a composition competition held at the University of Utah. The work is an orchestral depiction of a Whirling Dervish dance, such as those performed by Sufi musicians and dancers. You can also hear new arrangements for orchestra and traditional ensemble featuring Ms. Jalili. Join us for this unique orchestral event which is sure to be among the most memorable of the season!

Tickets $10 adults, $5 students and seniors. Available by calling 801-531-7501 or at the door with cash, check or credit card.

Become acquainted with the culture behind the music by attending the free, pre-concert discussion with Music Director Robert Baldwin from 6:15 to 7:00 p.m. in Room 270, right behind the concert hall. These lectures are sponsored, in part, by the Utah Humanities Council.

Monika Jalili’s Website: