October 2005

Ravi Shankar's Festival of India II
featuring Anoushka Shankar
October 13, 2005Roy Thomson HallToronto
Being ... at the right place, at the right time
by David Fujino
Practically everyone knows that after the sitar master Ravi Shankar recorded with the Beatles, he immediately went global. He became a huge pop star.

Shankar built upon this experience, and through the years he's used his multiple talents as a composer-producer and show designer to deliver his own versions of Indian classical music to the western world.

Indeed, the audience came to hear 85-year-old Ravi Shankar play this night (and we did hear him play in the second half), but the first half of the programme was devoted to four compositions by Mr. Shankar, played by the ensemble only and conducted by his 24-year-old daughter, Anoushka Shankar, an ever-developing artist who recently added to her performing successes with her first acting role as a Bharatanatyam dancer in the film, Dance Like A Man, adapted from Mahesh Dattani's play of the same name.

The opening piece was a Vandana, an invocation to Hindu deities. As played by conductor/sitarist Anoushka and the ensemble, the tuneful folkish piece was like a group hum, a tuning-up kind of tune with light rhythmic accents, but no tabla drums. Brief and refreshing, it set the mood.

With a mix of fluent string-wind-percussion players and two inventive singers (male and female), and conductor Anoushka Shankar frequently dialoguing and responding assertively on sitar, the mid-sized virtuoso ensemble pulled us into its rhythmically varied sound textures while laying down a sensitive meditative vibe that was graced by occasional downward swoons of a woman's voice, that core sound, the heart-felt lamentation in Indian music that pulls us in.

Ravi Shankar
Spirited duets appeared in another piece—a Tarana—which flitted excitedly and precisely from one rhythmic sequence to another in a composition with many parts, where the flute was exceptionally vocal and the veena's adventurous solo quickly reminded me of the jazz and country and western sounds of guitarist Larry Coryell. The ecstatic violin swept off into the stratosphere, then plunged into heads down hoe-down fiddling. The individualistic approach was contagious. The shahnai's breathy flutter spoke out to the sarod's plangent metallic calls, and the horizontally drummed mrididangam became an ever-present rhythmic drone in a growing situation of heightened group interconnection.

After Intermission, the focus was on Ragas and the duets between Ravi and Anoushka Shankar. One raga had a 5-beat rhythmic sequence (2-3 – 2-3) and its slow-to-medium tempo established the general tempo for this second half of the programme. There was no rapid-fire playing here, and the tablas again were noticeably absent for much of this second half.

Mr. Shankar's playing throughout was direct and highly vocalized. He bent and vibrated notes and stayed mostly in the mid and lower range, aiming for nuance and phrasing at the right place, at the right time.

For her part, Anoushka's fine playing was crisp, declamatory, and on top of the beat, but it's those particular moments, especially her fleet and shimmering articulation, paired with Mr. Shankar's insistent 'pulling off' from his strings, that I recall again with a delighted smile.

Anoushka Shankar
In an evening that lasted slightly over two hours in total (just give the audience enough), the Shankars and their crack ensemble of (slightly underused) musicians delivered an accessible package of entertaining music, as befits the dreams and aspirations of astute global cultural ambassadors.
Ravi Shankar — Sitar
Anousha Shankar — Sitar
Tanmoy Bose — Tabla, Percussion, Vocals
Parthosarathi — Sarod
Ravichandra Kulur — Flute, Kanjira
S. Radhakrishna — Violin
Swarnima Gusain — Vocals
Aditya Prakash — Vocals
Sanjeev Shankar — Shahnai
Pirashanna Thevarajh — Mrididangam, Percussion
Hari Sivanesan — Veena
Nick Able — Tanpura, Effects Instruments
We welcome your comments and feedback
• • • • • •
David Fujino
• •
The Live Music Report

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