The jewel in India's crown

03.13.10
Ravi Shankar
The Dominion Post

By Jennifer Shennan

This beautiful evening of Indian classical music – two sitars, tabla, flute, treble and bass tanpura – will be remembered as one of life's treasures by the delighted capacity audience who gave generous standing ovations.

There can be no doubting the greatness of the occasion. The legendary Ravi Shankar is close to 90 years old, yet brings a joyous and youthful energy to his performance. His genial personality is immediately apparent, and it is clear we are watching an artist whose lifetime's quest – to introduce audiences outside India to the splendid traditions of classical music that his country developed – has made him a happy man.

His striking daughter Anoushka, not yet 30, follows her father's path in command of the instrument, yet has her own fresh spirit and style. Each speaks an introduction to the raga and tala in a brief description that makes the fabulously intricate complexities of this music seem, however fleetingly, accessible and comprehensible. They pay us the compliment of expecting us to trust them, and we do.

Sitar strings make shimmering and cascading poetry, inviting you to dream and float in the tumble of their silver sound. This only happens, of course, because of the unimpeachable technique of the playing. Then there's a climax of thwacking, striking beats that pulls a meditative piece back to a strong and confident conclusion. The drone of tanpura makes a steady background wash, to keep the light and shade of the music in tandem.

The wooden flute, played by Ravichandra Kulur, has a warm and wonderful sonority.

Tabla is played by Tanmoy Bose, with such clear and thrilling dexterity, his hands like hummingbird wings, or soft as water, at times seemingly boneless, moving at speeds that defy belief across beat to half-beat, threading several layers of rhythms together into a weave that would tip and toss and fling away dull care, though soon replacing that with a vitality of pulse and the excitement of sensing your own heart beat.

We are often counselled not to let emotions get the better of us. This music works alchemy, inviting us to do just that. Sheer magic (though not forgetting the thousand, thousand hours of devoted training and practice needed to bring a musician to this point of competence). O India.