for full orchestra

Duration: 13 minutes
Commissioned by: The Boston Symphony Orchestra and Maestro Andris Nelsons
Dedicated to: the brave people of Iran

Performance History

July 8, 9th 2023 – Tanglewood, Boston Symphony Orchestra and Maestro Andris Nelsons
October 12, 13, 14, 15th, 2023 – Boston, MA, Boston Symphony Orchestra and Maestro Andris Nelsons
October 22nd – NEPM radio broadcast – Boston Symphony Orchestra led by Andris Nelsons


Piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon/4 horns, 3 trumpets, 2 trombones, bass trombone, tuba/timpani, 3 percussions/harp/strings

Percussion list: Bass Drum, Tam Tam, Clash Cymbals, Suspended Cymbal, Snare Drum, Brake Drum, Whip

Programme Notes

2023 marks twenty years since I left my birth country of Iran to start a new life in North America. Still, I feel deeply connected to and pained by the struggles and suffering of my fellow Iranians. For decades, Iranains have been kept hostage, continually fighting to retrieve their most basic human rights, their freedom, justice, and their environmental and ecological health. Over the past several months, a new wave of protests (what has resembled a revolution) began following the death of Mahsa (Zhina or Jina) Amini, and several other young women. Inspired by Mahsa’s Kurdish name, Zhina, Woman, Life, Freedom (Zhen, Zhiân, Âzâdi), has become the main slogan of these protests, and the basic spoken rhythm of this slogan forms the main motivic element of this piece. The title, Zhiân, translates to ‘life’ in Kurdish, and to ‘indignant’ or ‘formidable’ in Persian. The music carries us through darkness and light, but resolves in the end with a determination to continue striving towards a just, sustainable, and vibrant future. In the months I spent writing this piece, I was surrounded by images and videos of Iranian protesters inside and outside of Iran, many of whom lost their loved ones, lost their own lives, or are currently imprisoned or on death row. This piece is my humble attempt to stand in solidarity with them, and I dedicate it to the brave people of Iran, in the hope of better days ahead.


“The sincerity and emotional inspiration of the work, some 13 minutes in length, is palpable in the music itself. Habibi deploys the full resources of the orchestra to build up churning, slowly evolving masses of sound. Abrupt shifts in direction function like jump cuts and represent, according to the composer, the jolts to daily life during a time of social upheaval. In Sunday’s performance, the work’s impact was, to use an alternate translation of its title, formidable.” Jeremy Eichler, The Boston Globe

“Composer Iman Habibi’s “Zhiân” opened the second half brilliantly. A BSO-commissioned piece, it was inspired by recent protests in the composer’s native Iran and abroad following the September 2022 death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in the custody of Iran’s morality police. The piece unfolded in shining waves, which were at times overpowering in their intensity, but always undergirded with notes of determination and faith.“ A.Z. Madonna from The Boston Globe

“Zhiân is kaleidoscopically scored and clearly structured. Its melodic denouement is thoroughly satisfying, and the piece boasts several striking moments, not the least of which is a breathtaking sequence in which a solo oboe sings beneath a canopy of gossamer string harmonics and quietly noodling woodwinds. Afterwards, the composer was on hand to bask in the audience’s warm applause.” Jonathan Blumhofer from Boston Classical Review

“ The local premiere of a new work by Iman Habibi resonated with just as much sympathy for a different contemporary struggle. Zhiân, the title of Habibi’s thirteen-minute score, finds the composer wrestling with the tensions faced by his fellow Iranians. The title refers to Mahsa Zhina Amini, an Iranian woman left to die suspiciously in the hospital after refusing to wear a hijab as required by repressive government law. During protests over recent months, her name became a symbol of strength and formidable defiance. And Habibi’s music inspires as well. Zhiân captures everything between rage and prayerful hope, played out through stinging dissonances and warm concluding harmonies. Nelsons’s compelling reading drew seismic urgency from every page of the score.” Aaron Keebaugh from the Art Fuse

“The piece [Zhiân] opened with various quarters of the orchestra in paired thirds kicking around a lyrical phrase whose contour suggests a kinship with the initial gesture of the Dies irae plainchant. The ebullient, ever-shifting piece exhibited a deft talent with the orchestra, and concluded on an undeniably positive cadence.” Karl Henning from Earrelevant.net

“Habibi’s intense score weaves  dark and light colors with a lush orchestration” The Boston Musical Intelligencer



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