Shāhīn-nāmeh for traditional Persian vocalist and orchestra

Note: As an Azrieli Music Prize winner, repeat performances of this work qualify for up to $25,000 CAD from The AMP Performance Fund. Learn more at this link.

Duration: 25 minutes
In five movements
Commissioned by: The Azrieli Foundation, as a winner of the international Azrieli Commission for Jewish Music
Poetry (in Persian): Shahin Shirazi


2(+picc)2(+ca)2(+bcl)2(+cbn)/4331/timp.3perc/hp/pf/setar(optional)/strings and solo voice
Percussion List: Bass Drum, Crotales, Crash Cymbal, Daf, Suspended Symbal, Snare Drum, Tam-Tam, Tambourine

Potential Soloists

Sepideh Raissadat
Sara Hamidi
Ghazaleh Faylinejad
Jessika Kenney

Nominated for the JUNO Award for Classical Composition of the Year (2024)
Azrieli Commission for Jewish Music (2022)

– “orchestrated gorgeously…” “At first I wished for printed lyrics with a translation so I could follow. But the music was so compelling I was ultimately glad I didn’t have the distraction of trying to follow along, and could simply lose myself in the sound.” Jon Sobel, Blogcritics

“the orchestra was by turns dance-like, stormy, stately and reflective in support of Raissadat’s colorful narrative and soulful setar playing.” David Wright of the New York Classical Review

It is easy to see why the premise behind Habibi’s five-part song cycle fascinated the AMP jurors, who selected it as the 2022 winner of the commission for Jewish music. But the composition itself turned out to be just as intriguing. Shāhīn-nāmeh successfully juxtaposes the sonority of a Western orchestra with Persian classical and folk idioms — meaning, in this case, that improvisation and micro-intervals outside the Western tonal system played an important role in the contributions by the two soloists[…] Habibi’s alluring score likewise amalgamated its highly varied sources persuasively, mixing touches of Stravinskian neoclassicism and anticipatory, folk-like drones serving the overall sense of a ceremonial and even bardic performance instead of a linear narrative.” Thomas May of the Seen and Heard International

“Les critiques continuent d’affluer, regardez le Gala des PAM en entier sur MediciTV ! « Explorant la poésie judéo-persane du XIVe siècle, la pièce Shāhīn-nāmeh d’Iman Habibi s’est avérée le plus beau et grand moment de la soirée. Mobilisant un style de chant persan traditionnel, la chanteuse Sepideh Raissadat a livré une performance vocale d’une exceptionnelle beauté et a permis à celle-ci d’effectuer magnifiques improvisations que la partition du compositeur autorisait.” — L’Opéra

“Explorant la poésie judéo-persane du XIVe siècle, la pièce Shāhīn-nāmeh d’Iman Habibi s’est avérée le plus beau et grand moment de la soirée. Mobilisant un style de chant persan traditionnel, la chanteuse Sepideh Raissadat a livré une performance vocale d’une exceptionnelle beauté et a donné lieu à de magnifiques improvisations que la partition du compositeur autorisait.” Revuelopera

Performance History

October 22, 2022 – Montreal, QC – Orchestre Metropolitain led by Alexandre Bloch with Sepideh Raissadat as soloist
October 6, 2023 – Recording release – Orchestre Metropolitain led by Nicolas Ellis with Sepideh Raissadat as soloist
October 15, 2023 – London, UK – Philharmonia led by Steven Mercurio with Jessika Kenney as soloist
March 28, 2024 – New York, NY – Orchestra of St. Luke’s led by Steven Mercurio with Sepideh Raissadat as soloist

Programme Notes

Shāhīn-nāmeh derives its poetry from Ardashir-nāmah (the Book of Ardashir) by the Judeo-Persian poet, Shahin Shirazi, and is a commentary on the tale of Queen Esther, connecting it with mythical characters from Ferdowsi’s monumental epic Shahnameh (The Book of Kings). The poems include the accounts of the Persian King Xerxes I (referred to in the book as Ardashir), Mordecai and Queen Esther, and their saving of the Jewish populace from a plotted genocide by Haman.

My song-cycle, based on Shahin’s work, is set in Persian and performed by a Persian classical soloist and a Western orchestra. Each song within the set is dramatic and sweeping, following the epic nature of Shahin’s poetry. And while each song can stand on its own, the songs connect to form a cohesive narrative, and share certain thematic elements with one another. Some characters and events from the story have dedicated pitches and harmonies. The music alternates between strictly metric passages, and freer ones that allow the soloist to improvise. Apart from its often improvisatory nature, Persian music makes use of intervals that do not exist within the Western 12-tone system. My challenge, as a composer has been to bring the two musical systems together in a sensitive way. The result, I hope, will be an exciting marriage of different cultural and musical languages.

It is my hope that this piece can not only bring much-deserved attention to the poetry of Shahin, but also show the close affinity that has existed historically between Persians and Jews, dating back to the time of Xerxes I in the sixth century B.C.


Premiere Date: October 20, 2022 – Orchestre Métropolitain
Conducted by: Alexandre Bloch
Soloist: Sepideh Raissadat
La Maison Symphonique de Montréal

Commercial Recordings

New Jewish Music Vol. 4 on Analekta (now a subsidiary of Outhere Music)

Performed by Orchestre Métropolitain, led by Nicolas Elis, with soloist Sepideh Raissadat


From Ardashir-Nameh by Shahin Shirazi
I. In Susa

II. Shahin’s prologue آغاز سخن
آغاز سخن بنا نھادم بر نام احد زبان گشادم
I lay the foundation of this word by naming the One

بر نام کریم و قادر پاک شونده عرش و لوح و افلاک
by the name of the giving almighty, creator of the skies and heavens

خلاق بود و نبود دوران علام و علیم نطق مرغان
creator of what is and what is not, all-knowing of the speech of birds

دانای رقوم تخته پاک شمع دل عاشقان غمناک
aware of the writing on a blank board, a flame in the sad hearts of lovers

ھر گل که ز نوک خارخیزد خندان شود او ولی بریزد
a flower growing from thorn blossoms but soon withers

در باغ فنا گلی نروید تا زار به خویش برنموید
no flower grows in the garden of naught, lest it weeps upon itself

شاھین به میان در آ چو شاھین رخ وار بزی مباش فرزین
Shahin rise in the middle like a falcon, live like the rook, and not the queen

از کرده اردشیر شه باز نظمی خوش و دل گشا بپرداز
lay out a pleasant verse from king Ardashir’s deed

نصرت ز عطا دھش طلب کن لب را ز حدیث پرادب کن
seek victory from the all-giving, and bring the divine word to your lips

تا سوختگان ورا ببینند زان خرمن وصل خوشه چینند
so the forlorn can see Him, and harvest from the crop of this bond

چون شیفتگان فغان بدارند شوریده و مست و بی قرارند
like the enchanted they weep, ecstatic, intoxicated, and eager

ھیگی چو بدید شاه را گرم اندر پی دلبری به آزرم
when Hegai saw the king in pursuit of charm

در خدمت شاه رفت چون شیر با شاه بخواند راز استیر
With the courage of a lion he told the tale of Esther

III. The Dawn of Esther طلوع استیر
چون صبح صفا شود پدیدار بی نورشود فروغ سیار
When the tranquil dawn arrives, stars lose their luster

یک مشعل شمع نور گیرد صد مشعل دیگری بمیرد
as one bright flame burns, a hundred other flames fade

خوشتر ز رفیق مھربان کیست بی ھمدم و یار کی توان زیست
what is more pleasant than the kind companion, and how could one live its absence

با ھمدم و یار زندگانی خوشتر ز حیات جاودانی
life with the beloved is greater than eternal life

استیر زپرده ھمچو ناھید بنمود رخی چو ماه و خورشید
Esther appeared like the morning star, shining bright as the moon and the sun

شه بر سر تخت دل پر از جوش میکرد به یاد ماه می نوش
the eager king sat at his bed, drinking wine in the memory of the moon

دھوش فتاد از سر جاه چون مرد غریب خسته از راه
intoxicated he fell, like a tired stranger at the end of an arduous road

از تابش روی او عجب ماند بر طلعت رویش آفرین خواند
he marvelled at the luminescence of Esther, and praised her beauty

کام دل از آن نگار دلبند برداشت به عقد و مھرو پیوند
he took his heart’s desire from her beauty, with a bond and an engagement

IV. Postlude تقدیر
راز دل خویش با که گویم رخساره به خون دل بشویم
with whom can I share my heart’s secret; I wipe my face with my blood

تا شاه ز حال من بداند زودم ز عذاب وا رھاند
so the king may hear of my condition and free me from this pain

این بد رگ نحس شوم ھامان کامد ز در این زمان خرامان
the evil Haman who just arrived through the door

از کرده او دلم به دردست با من شب و روز در نوردست
my heart aches from his wrong-doing through day and night

با قوم من او ستیز دارد سر پنجه و تیغ تیز دارد
he fights my kind with sharp blades and claws

دشمن چو به شه نمود استیر در خشم شد اردشیر چون شیر
as Esther revealed the adversary to the king, Ardashir was overcome with anger

“باکی ز من او مگر ندارد یا خود به شھی ھمی شمارد”
“does he not fear me, or does he assume himself king?”

بر جانب خاندان ھامان رفتند ھمه یک به یک خرامان
towards Haman’s tribe, they rushed one by one

چون امر ستیره گوش کردند بر قوم عدو خروش کردند
as they followed Esther’s command, they invaded the enemy

بنگر که صدف چه گنج دارد زان قطره که ابر میببارد
See the seashell, the treasures it holds from the fallen drop of rain

ناچار لباس صبر پوشد نوش ستم زمانه نوشد
it wears the garment of patience and tolerates the world’s adversary

Perusal Score