Monday, September 21, 2009

North/South, East/West

There's classical music, and then there's classical music.

For every Mozart, Beethoven, and Bach lighting the way and establishing the traditions and standards of Western classical music, there are centuries of composers and artists whose contributions have shaped the equally rich traditions of Eastern classical music.

<--(Bhattacharya playing the 22-string chaturangui, a hybrid instrument of his own creation)

Pandit Debashish Bhattacharya is one of the modern masters (the honorary Indian title of "Pandit" means "master") of Indian classical music, not only upholding the traditions of the style but blazing a new path as well through his creation of new instruments on which to play the music.

I had the special opportunity to hear him perform yesterday afternoon at the UVM recital hall with his equally talented brother, tabla master Subhasis Bhattcharya. Their appearance was sponsored by UVM's Friends of Indian Music and Dance, and it marked the opening concert on the brothers’ tour in support of their new (third) recording, O Shakuntala!.

Pandit Bhattacharya is best known for the blistering slide guitar technique he's been developing since childhood, and his ability to make the instrument "sing" like the human voices prominent in the Carnatic style of Southern Indian classical music. But the best part is, he infuses this 'vocal' sound into the purely instrumental raga form that characterizes the Northern (Hindustani) classical tradition. The resulting new North/South stylistic combination is incredibly compelling, in the same way his instruments seamlessly hybridize the very best qualities of two separate instruments.

For an extra treat Bhattacharya concluded the recital with a single offering from another of his personally-designed instruments, the 4-stringed anandi. It's a "slide-ukulele", which he described aptly as the instrument that brings Hawaiian and Indian music together.

After the ferocity and virtuosity of the recital's earlier offerings the evening ended rather introspectively, with the last warm glow of the sunset fading away through the recital hall windows and the soulful, lyrical voice of the anandi sending the audience off quietly into the night.

<--(tabla artist Subhasis Bhattacharya)

If there's a better way to spend an early autumn evening, I can't begin to imagine it.

Another Indian classical concert of note coming to the area: Ravi Shankar and his daughter Anoushka Shankar, at the Hopkins Center on Tue. October 20th at 7pm. I already have my tickets - hope to see you there!

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