Sitar master Ravi Shankar gives his daughter a precious gift, a new concerto; Daughter to perform piece written for her by father

Ravi Shankar
Chicago Tribune

It promises to be a family affair, in more ways than one.

The world premiere of a brand-new concerto for sitar and orchestra by Ravi Shankar-the legendary sitarist and composer who is India's most esteemed musical ambassador-will bring together two generations of Shankars, if not physically then certainly in spirit.

The soloist will be Anoushka Shankar-Ravi Shankar's daughter, former student and, like her famous father, a celebrated performer on the sitar, the plucked stringed instrument widely used in music of the Indian subcontinent since the Middle Ages.

The elder Shankar wrote his Sitar Concerto No. 3 expressly for Anoushka, on commission from the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. The conductor-less, New York-based ensemble will collaborate with her in a series of U.S. performances of the new work beginning Sunday in Pick-Staiger Concert Hall. The premiere event will conclude the School of Music's 13th annual Winter Chamber Music Festival.

The Shankar-Orpheus collaboration also will serve as the subject of a unique Internet documentary series, "Raga Saga," consisting of 12 brief "Webisodes" tracing the genesis of the finished performance from the first read-through to the final performance of the work's maiden tour, Jan. 31 in New York's Carnegie Hall. (Registration is required to access the daily segments, but they are available without cost at and also can be viewed collectively at

A phenomenon in the classical music worlds of India and the West, Ravi Shankar has done more than anyone to advance Indian music around the world. He remains active as a performer and composer, although travel is tiring for him (he turns 89 in April) and he won't be attending the U.S. performances of his sitar concerto, according to his daughter.

Speaking by phone from India, Anoushka Shankar said that playing her father's music is "always a meaningful experience" for her.

"My father writes music that is so intertwined with our ancient Indian classical music style that I really feel connected with our culture when I perform it," said the 28-year-old Shankar, whose musical family also includes singer and songwriter Norah Jones, her half-sister.

Much of the satisfaction Shankar derives from bringing her father's new concerto into the world, she said, lies in exploring the styles of Indian classical music he taught her from childhood, while being able to develop her own creative voice to its full potential through his ideas. "I really hope to create that balance, because that is who I am," she said.

Although the three-movement concerto is completely notated, Shankar said her interpretation will draw upon the many improvisatory inflections she learned from her father, which cannot be fully captured in Western notation.

Ravi Shankar composed the music in a typically spontaneous manner, singing various ragas (Indian melodic forms) in her presence which she would then play back for him on the sitar. True to the traditions of how students assimilate music in Indian culture, she learned the piece by ear and not from the score, she said.

Anoushka Shankar further observed that collaborating with the Orpheus, a group that approaches the orchestral repertory as if it were chamber music, is not so far removed from her performances of Indian classical music, which places a high premium on group improvisation and interaction.

"I'm really excited to be doing it because I don't get to play with orchestras very often and I've never worked with a conductor-less orchestra before," she said. "I think this will be an amazing experience."