When East marries West...

Musical mix

When East marries West...

Made for each other Saskia and Shubhendra Rao with their  instruments  PHOTOS BY AUTHORA jugalbandi concert with sitarist Shubhendra Rao and cellist Saskia Rao-de-Haas has far reaching connotations. As a brilliant cellist from the Netherlands and a disciple of Guru Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia, who plays Hindustani classical music on her instrument, Saskia has introduced an entirely new strain of development into the realm of this music.

Shubhendra too comes with blue blood credentials, being a disciple of Pandit Ravi Shankar ever since he was a seven-year-old, who in addition to playing in the gayaki of the famed maestro has also built his own music persona as a composer.

On stage, the music heritage garnered from their respective antecedents is visible through a concert layout. Traditionally, they begin by playing pure classical music for the first half of the concert, followed by a series of compositions based on various folk musical traditions from around the globe.

Musically, this rendition, say critics, sounds like a symphony in performance with the cello providing the masculine component and the sitar its high-pitched sonority. Together they seem to create the effect of a complete orchestra in their range of play. That this unique experiment has received widespread acclaim is evident from the concert billings coming their way, of which the latest is the Maximum India Festival currently in progress in the USA.

“The tickets for our concert at the Kennedy Center in the Maximum India Festival are a complete sell out,” was Shubhendra’s mailed message even as the duo were preparing to address a lecture demonstration session for schools in the USA. This appearance too had its fallout as the event is being telecast to schools and colleges across the country.

“We have an entire evening to show them where this music, and we, in that connection, come from,” surmises the artist. Then, as they have been frequent performers on the American circuit, they have also been contacted by other companies with whom they have created joint stage shows. Says Saskia, “On landing in the USA this time, our first public appearance was a performance with the Minneapolis Dance Company. This is a mother-daughter team who call themselves the Minneapolis Dance Company and I have composed music for their performances. Their current work features the idea of a journey through life, a yatra, and the duo, who are disciples of the famed bharatanatyam danseuse Allarmel Valli, have their musical scores based around the sitar and the cello.”

Yet, it is not European audiences only who hanker for the strains of the sitar and the cello playing in unison. Stranger musicians often come knocking at their doors with requests to make music with them. “The most recent meeting was our encounter with musicians from Iran. He is a taar player, and his instrument, the taar, is the predecessor of our sitar. There was no pre-meditated course of music and we did not speak a common language as I do not know any Persian, but the language barrier broke down when  we took up our respective instruments. He played Iranian folk tunes and I took the cue and followed with numbers in ragas such as Bhairavi, Asavari, of which they had equivalent scales in Bharavi and Birwani. The music that flowed was like the meeting of two great civilisations coming together. We only stopped playing when at four in the afternoon we suddenly realised that we felt hungry!”

The fallout from this chance meeting was even more dramatic as the duo were subsequently invited to play at the International Music Festival in Tehran, just prior to the US trip. “Our Iranian friends joined in with our team. While I played the sitar, the Iranian counterpart was the taar. The cello was complimented by the Iranian kamancha, a bowing instrument. For the rhythm component, they had the duff and the darbuka while we had a tabla accompanist. The entire experience was an explosion of melody, rhythm and emotional ecstacy,” recall the duo.

Crystal gazing into upcoming musical developments for the duo include representing Indian culture at the next venue of the Commonwealth Games which will be held at Glasgow, in 2014. “I have just returned from a preliminary meeting with members of the Scottish Opera where the broad format of the concert was discussed. It will involve six or seven musicians from various Commonwealth countries and we will combine with the opera group of Glasgow to create a harmonious blend of world music.”

Already the couple have their parameters for this music experience on cue as they explain: “It will definitely be an Indian composition, but what it will transmit is not the individuality of this music but its unity.”

Yet, concert encores is not what these musicians have as their goal. The milestone ahead for them has a wider perspective, which is not achieved in a day or an evening. “It is an initiative into music education through a curriculum for art education that will be introduced in all schools in India,” is their dream and they are working silently but surely towards it.

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