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Contemporary Persian Poetry and Music
Mahya Hamedi, Sepher Pirasteh, Arcana New Music Ensemble

Friday - 8:00pm (ET)
March 29, 2024

Asian Arts Initiative
1219 Vine Street Philadelphia PA 19107
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$15 – $25

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Composer/performers Mahya Hamedi and Sepehr Pirasteh unite their talents with the Shiraz Ensemble and the Arcana New Music Ensemble to craft an enchanting evening celebrating Contemporary Persian Poetry and Music. With poems curated by Fatemeh Shams, the event will immerse audiences in the depth of Iran’s poetic legacy while capturing the spirit of the contemporary moment.

Harking back to the inception of the Shiraz Arts Festival in 1967, the platform played a pivotal role in showcasing Iran’s vibrant community of poets and musicians. A recital of “Contemporary Persian Poetry,” the inaugural year paid homage to literary giants Hafez and Sa’di and living poets took the stage to recite their own verses.  The venerable Mohammad-Hossein Shahriar, Iran’s eldest living poet, debuted a new poem in honor of the Festival. The poetic event took place at Hafeziyeh, the final resting place of the esteemed Persian poet Hafez.

Parallel to the poets’ engagement with both historical and contemporary themes, composers at the Shiraz Arts Festival drew inspiration from a fusion of past and present elements. Noteworthy figures from the Euro-American avant garde, such as Karlheinz Stockhausen, Iannis Xenakis, Olivier Messiaen, Bruno Maderna, John Cage, David Tudor, and Morton Feldman, were featured at the festival.  Proposals for a significant arts center, encompassing electronic music and recording studios, were planned but were thwarted by the onset of the Revolution. Nevertheless, the festival left an indelible mark on Iran’s contemporary and experimental music scene, shaping its trajectory in enduring ways.


Farzia Fallah (b. 1980): Posht-e Hichestan for solo flute

Aida Shirazi (b. 1987): ephemera for clarinet and percussion

Anahita Abbasi (b. 1985): Situation IV/Io E iO for solo violin

Arcana New Music Ensemble
Nicholas Handahl, flute
Jonathan Leeds, clarinet
Andy Thierauf, percussion
Carlos Santiago – violin


Mahya Hamedi
Shiraz Ensemble

Nooshin Nowrouzi, kamancheh
Sepehr Pirasteh, alto kamancheh
Sina Homaee, santoor

performing new works based on poetry selections by Fatemeh Shams.


This event is part of A UTOPIAN STAGE, an exhibition at Asian Arts Initiative from February 9 to March 30, 2024.

Pictured above: Shahr-e Qesseh (City of Tales), Bijan Mofid (playwright & director); from left: Soheil Souzani, Mehdi Ali Beigi, Jamileh.Nedai, Mahmood Ostad Mohamad, Rashid Kanaani, commissioned by the Festival, University Hall, 1968. Courtesy of Dariush Hajir / Afshin Mofid / Archaeology of the Final Decade Archives.


Mahya Hamedi (born 1999) is an Iranian vocalist, pianist, and composer from Tehran. Singing and playing the piano since the age of nine, Mahya realized quickly that music was her lifelong passion. Her early compositions for theatre won local and national awards, and she has performed in groups across Iran and in Greece before university. Unable to pursue studies in vocal performance in her home country due to a national ban on women singing, she studied classical piano at the University of Tehran for two years before traveling to Berklee to focus on voice and composition. Mahya’s recorded works are highly syncretic, fusing Iranian folk music with contemporary jazz pop, and classical music showcasing her powerful and versatile voice.

Sepehr Pirasteh is a composer and conductor born in Shiraz, Iran. His compositions draw on Persian classical and folk as well as contemporary classical music vocabularies to express his concerns and fears about the political and social realities of the world we are living in. Sepehr’s works have been performed by ensembles such as Argus String Quartet, PRISM saxophone quartet, Pushback Ensemble, Unheard-of Ensemble, Orquestra Criança Cidadã, Hole in the Floor, fivebyfive, and members of the Fifth House Ensemble. He has been commissioned by Susan Horvath Chamber Music, ENA chamber opera ensemble, Philadelphia Student Composers Project, Detroit Composers’ Project, YInMn project, Pushback Collective, Fresh Inc. Festival, Yara Ensemble, Central Michigan University’s (CMU) Percussion Ensemble, and the CMU Saxophone Ensemble. His music has been performed in Argentina, Brazil, Iran and the United States. Sepehr has also been a fellow in festivals and residencies such as Harvard University’s Fromm Foundation Fellowship (Composers Conference), CCI Initiative, and Fresh Inc Festival.

Dr. Fatemeh Shams is a Persian poet, literary scholar, and translator. She currently teaches Persianate literature and history at the University of Pennsylvania and is a core faculty member of the Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies Program. Her work focuses on the intersection of literature, politics, and society. Fatemeh is interested in the evolution of poetry and patronage in the Persian literary tradition and the representation and transformation of this relationship in modern Iran. She previously taught poetry at Oxford and SOAS Universities in the UK. She has published three award-winning poetry collections in Persian and English. In her academic research, she concentrates on the intersection of poetry and politics in past and present Iran. Her book, Revolution in Rhyme: Poetic Co-Option Under Islamic Republic (Oxford University Press), explores the role of poetry and poetics in the political ideology of the Islamic Republic.

Shiraz Ensemble embodies a global perspective, combining their roles as citizens of the world and passionate artists to shed light on crucial socio-political matters through art. Drawing inspiration from their personal journeys as immigrants from Iran to the United States, they channel their experiences into a transformative musical narrative. Blending contemporary classical music with the rich traditions of Iran, Shiraz Ensemble aims to engage audiences and promote cultural understanding by fusing different musical aesthetics. Founded in Philadelphia, Shiraz Ensemble takes its name from the ancient city of Shiraz in Iran, a place of birth and upbringing for both its founders, Sina Homaee (santoor and tombak) and Sepehr Pirasteh.

Founded in 2016, the Arcana New Music Ensemble is a group of Philadelphia-based musicians dedicated to presenting interesting, beautiful, and unconventional music in interesting, beautiful, and unconventional places. Built on a flexible roster of 25 musicians, Arcana is able to perform a broad range of repertoire in numerous configurations. Composers featured in recent programs include Julius Eastman, Morton Feldman, Galina Ustvolskaya, Pauline Oliveros, Tom Johnson, Moondog, and James Tenney. Arcana has performed at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Fleisher Art Memorial, The Rotunda, The Kitchen (NYC), and collaborated with Variant Six, Prometheus Chamber Orchestra, and Pig Iron Theater Company.


Major support for A Utopian Stage has been provided by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage with additional support from the Musical Fund Society of Philadelphia.. Presented in collaboration with Asian Arts Initiative, Fire Museum Presents and Philly Iranians

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