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ragamala

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Barbican, London, 21st June 2011

In 2008 Ravi Shankar's tour including the UK was billed as the "farewell" European tour. He did appear in London although he had to cancel some other dates, but I missed that, so it was good to get another chance - three dates in the UK billed as "Celebrating His Tenth Decade".

The Barbican auditorium. Anoushka was smiling, slim and elegant as she waved and greeted her friends in the front rows before taking a centre front row seat. As the audience lights dimmed, only the spaces in the first row seats near her announced, to me at least, that Ravi wouldn't be appearing quite yet.

The rest of the band came on-stage, and without much ado started playing. Parimal Sadapal played a few cycles of gat accompanied by Tanmoy Bose before he put his sitar down and the percussion trio started proper.

Pirashanna Thevarajah played a few minutes on mridingam, the beat then taken up by Ravichandra Kulur on kanjira, and after his solo Tanmoy Bose chipped in his piece. This sequence was repeated, although the audience was appreciative and applauded at the end of each section, I wondered how many of them were, like me, getting a little impatient as the cycle started a third time. The formula continued with the expected progression, each solo piece getting shorter and shorter, and the ensemble playing together in a finale.

After this performance, which lasted about half an hour, the arrival of the rest of the Shankar family to take their places in the audience heralded Ravi's appearance. The crowd rose to their feet as he came on-stage, the expected mix of middle class British Indian community, older and younger, to whom it was obvious Ravi was no stranger.

Ravi sat on the raised dais and welcomed his "London friends". He said he had wondered if they would still recognise him, as he had put on some weight lately, referring to his beard, which he tugged in explanation. It is now full, and of a straggly length something resembling Captain Haddock's but not yet as long as Rabindranath Tagore's. He looks rather grand, bearded.

Ravi pointed to his left and said he had got used to having Anoushka sitting there accompanying him, but tonight she was here, in the audience, with her husband and her baby, now just four months old. Both the baby's grandmothers were here, including his wife. The only unannounced family member was the pooch, who sat obediently on his seat.

The first number was introduced as an old-style alapana, a form in vogue some four or five centuries ago. He played for about twenty minutes, with Tanmoy Bose coming in on the Jor. This was followed by the announcement of a couple of teental gats in his own composition Tilak Shyam, in more modern "khyal" style.

After another twenty minutes he took a break, his student Kenji Ota retuned his sitar and Ravi started munching some small items. "Not food," he said with a grin. "Just energy stuff."

Indeed his playing grew more energetic in the next half of his performance. But before he played the final piece he gave a tribute to Rabindranath Tagore, whom he placed second only in his estimation to his guru. His musical tribute was in the form of a song he had learned when he was very young. Most of these songs he had forgotten, but this was the most beautiful. The Bengali words told of a woman recounting a lover meeting that was so beautiful that she could no longer bear to bring it back to memory, but she asked her lover to remember.

Ravi asked Tanmoy Bose to help him sing on this. "No big thing," Ravi said when Tanmoy cocked his head in query, "just a tribute." So sing together they did, with Ravi playing very sweetly on sitar.

For the last number Ravi said he didn't know just what he would play, but he would start in Khamaj and let a ragamala develop. At the end he would do a new thing. He gave it a name I didn't quite catch, something like "Bhava Chandra" and said it was a new way of creating rhythmic patterns. He didn't know if we would like it, but he found it fun.

After the promised ragamala, which was melodically and rhythmically playful, it transpired this was much percussive play on the sitar with a cloth, the sort often used between arm and tumba, laid under the strings to disable the jawari and muffle the sound.

This was followed by a concluding jhalla, Ravi still had the energy but Parimal Sadaphal carried most of the load.

After the appluase died down, Ravi said he had forgotten to announce his fellow musicians. Which he did, but as he was about to stand up Anoushka cried out that he had forgotten someone, and Ravi apologised to Pirashanna Thevarajah. "It is easy to forget when you are getting close to someone," Ravi said, raising his glance heavenwards.

Ravi left the stage to our right after a long standing ovation, but as the applause was continuing he returned. The centre curtains at stage rear parted and he drew them around him, so only his head was showing, a mischievous smile on his face. The audience was delighted, and Ravi came forward again and left only after many waves.

I left with renewed hope Ravi would still have many years left. His musicality, enjoyment of playing and enthusiasm for invention are undiminished.
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cabernethy

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Reply with quote  #2 
Thank you Ragamala, a lovely account of the concert which cleared up more than a few things for me

I Was also lucky enough to be at the concert in the 2nd row just behind the family and I can say without hesitation that it was the finest concert that I have ever been to. This was the first ICM recital that I have ever experienced and one which taught me a great deal. I Will be the first to admit that I have sometimes been disparaging with regards to Pandit Ravi Shankar but seeing him live has opened my eyes to his true worth and humbled me into admiration and love.

Whilst I found the "Bhava Chandra" section a little puzzling at first, the more I listened, the more I could hear the dancing of yesteryear.

I Am so very thankful to have had the opportunity to see what I regard as the last of the truly great sitar masters. I Spoke to a friend who accompanied me and he felt that the music spoke to him personally as did I. The Tagore piece brought tears to my eyes.

I left the concert in a state of amazement and uplifted to a place that renewed much of the hope that daily toils degrade.
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Sitarfixer

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Reply with quote  #3 
Barbican - great place and great memories ! Thank you for sharing this most detailed account of what clearly was a most rewarding concert experience. You lucky dog ! ! !
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nicneufeld

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Reply with quote  #4 
Quote:
Originally Posted by "Sitarfixer"
You lucky dog ! ! !
Well put!!!

I've never met the man nor seen him live (precious little chance of that now) but through his writings, interviews, and album after album of music, he's the closest I've come to having a guru. Here's to his continued health and long[er] life!
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John

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Reply with quote  #5 
Thanks for the great review, Alan.

Also, "uplifted to a place that renewed much of the hope that daily toils degrade" completely sums up my relationship with this music.

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