A collaborative performance between London-based Britten Sinphonia and Ustad Amjad Ali Khan’s sarod was a fascinating journey of sonic scales.
On Thursday, also the eve of India’s Independence Day, the Diwan-e-Aam hall of Delhi’s Taj Mahal hotel resonated with Raghupati raghav raja ram, the hymn sung during the salt march to Dandi in 1930. Based on raag Gara, its soft yet powerful melody pattern has turned it into a chant in the nation. So when members of the Britten Sinfonia, one of the most prestigious chamber orchestras from London and residents at Barbican Theatre touched upon both shuddh and komal nishad, with apt expression and skill, it was easy to forget about sonic scales. It was a strange moment. Ironic, even, as a British orchestra played this — a song that was used for
The orchestra, led by Jacqueline Shave, was merging this tune on strings, a flute and a bassoon with Ustad Amjad Ali Khan’s sarod. Khan was accompanied by his sons Amaan Ali Khan and Ayaan Ali Khan for the performance. Khan has collaborated with Scottish Chamber Orchestra in the past to deliver a similar performance, but while that was a little scattered (there were over 100 musicians and acoustics were messy), this one came together beautifully.
“One has to find a meeting point. If you dilute any of the two forms, you are left with nothing. So that confluence is necessary,” Shave said before the concert. Britten Sinfonia opened the concert with a 350-year-old piece by English composer Henry Purcell. An extremely delicate performance on heaving strings, it was delivered with much dexterity by the sextet and was followed by one of
Mozart’s movements and a Morocco-inspired tune. A flute quartet, the piece was playful yet extremely controlled. Then came a sarod performance on Ekla cholo re.
The complete journey, however, seemed to be headed to Samagam, a piece conceived and written by Khan. The centrepiece of the evening, it had the two systems of classical music face formidable challenges with each other and eventually blend to emerge as one entity. When it came to fusing the two genres, this was also one of the most well-constructed and delivered pieces of the evening. The piece moved in many ragas — Basant Mukhari, Pahadi, Kalavati and Bhairavi being the prominent ones. The replication of melodic patterns on the violins, viola, flute and bassoon was delightful. As the performance reached a crescendo, the audience, which was by invite only, was swaying to the intricate melody. The piece concluded with a jhaala followed by a tihaai, spinning a glowing web
“I can’t read music. I wish I could. I have immense respect for artistes who can, But in Indian music, we play with our memory,” said Khan. For us, it was love at first sound.