Ravi Shankar- Evening Ragas Review

08.24.11
Ravi Shankar
Edinburgh Guide

By Bill Dunlop

Venue: 
The Usher Hall
 
Company:  Edinburgh International Festival
 
Running time: 
90mins
 
Performers: 
Ravi Shankar (sitar), Tanmoy Bose (tabla), Ravichandra Kulur (flute), Parimal Sadaphal (sitar), Pirashanna Thevarajah (mridangam)
 
Ravi Shankar has spent decades crossing boundaries, both geographical and musical, whilst remaining among the finest living exponents of Indian classical music. Both composer and player, in this Usher Hall concert he reminded a capacity audience, if it needed the memory jog, of the pure quality of his sitar playing and of the capacity of both the music itself and his interpretation to reach the widest possible audience.

The programme was titled ‘Evening Ragas’ but belied the repertoire which Shankar and his fellow musicians presented. Opening with a raga straight from the classical tradition, we were then offered one of Shankar’s own composition, composed both to honour Lord Krishna, whose celebratory day this was, and also for his own grandchild. The mixture of sacred and secular seemed not only very Indian but also very Shankar, a man who has spent much of his life as a devout Hindu playing in western as well as eastern settings.

Classical Indian music is based on a series of melodic modes, the central concept being that notes which form something between a scale and a tune comprise these modes, which are then extended, expanded on and literally played with to create raga. Raga themselves are essentially spiritual in intention and conception, and different types are considered suitable for differing times in daily worship – hence morning and evening raga.

Their migration to the west is its own fascinating tale, but the opening of the western ear, particularly in the nineteen sixties and seventies gave Shankar and a number of Indian musicians opportunities to reach wider audiences than ever before.

Given that Ravi Shankar came to prominence in the third quarter of the previous century, one might have been forgiven for imagining that the audience for this concert would have been of a certain age, but although not a few fitted that description, and some ’EIF usual suspects’ were also to be seen, the numbers of younger people testified to the enduring appeal of the man and his music.   

The marvellous tabla playing of Tanmoy Bose and Pirashanna Theverajah on mridangam gave wonderful counterpoint to Parimal Sadaphal as accompanying sitar.

Ravichandra Kulur’s flute playing floated above us all, but, of course, the driving force remained with Ravi Shankar, whose genius no less a musician than the late Yehudi Menuhin described as being ‘comparable to that of Mozart.’