Back to the Future of Making Music

Published: 24th October 2015 10:00 PM  |   Last Updated: 23rd October 2015 01:15 AM   |  A+A-

SHUBHENDRA.jpgThe last few weeks have been an amazing phase in my life. First, I was invited to compose and perform for the visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel along with our Prime Minister Narendra Modiji at a small and intimate setting in Delhi. I composed a piece that I called ‘Ekta-Unity’ that was appreciated by both leaders. Vikas Swaroop, official spokesperson, Ministry of External Affairs, also tweeted about it: “From Indian Bhajans to Bach & Beethoven, Ekta exemplifies the very best in the musical traditions of the East & West.”

The other thing I am very excited about is that I have been invited to be the soloist, performing with the Bilbao Symphony Orchestra in Spain early November. I will be performing my Guru Pandit Ravi Shankar’s Concerto No 1 that he composed and recorded in the early 1970s with the London Symphony Orchestra with maestro Andre Previn as the conductor.

Having heard this composition since childhood, I was always drawn to it and dreamt of performing it one day. To be invited to do so is indeed a dream come true. The four movements in this composition are based on the ragas: Khamaj, Sindhi Bhairavi, Adana and ManjKhamaj. I, for one, have never been able to ‘read’ music like the Western Classical musicians do. I always believed in absorbing the music and making it my own. My Guru used to call me his ‘memory bank’ since at any given time, I could remember all his compositions, hundreds of phone numbers and many details that one would normally forget. I still remember the time when he was composing for the grand finale of the India Festival in Moscow. This was one historic composition where over 200 artists were on stage together—the Russian Philharmonic orchestra, the Russian Folk Ensemble, the Russian Choir and about 25 Indian musicians. When this was being composed in New Delhi, I would sit down with him with my sitar and he reeled off composition after composition for days at a stretch. I would memorise it and later, sit down with his music assistant, Ashit Desai, who would then notate the whole composition and distribute it to other artists. This was performed live at the Kremlin on three consecutive evenings as the finale of the year-long Festival of India in Russia.

Practicing Concerto No 1 now has also given me an opportunity to revisit my learning years when I was in my late teens/early twenties. It feels almost like a rebirth because I have to have the same sharpness of mind and memory to be able to retain what I am practicing. Moreover, I feel as if I am sitting down with my Guru all over again, learning at his feet the same things that made me the musician I am today. Of course, the orchestra part is all written down but the sitar piece is obviously improvised by Guruji. Today, I have to first understand his improvisations, memorise it and practice it to the point of being perfect since there cannot be a single mistake on stage. I am relishing this challenge. The whole process has given me a new energy and I feel blessed for this opportunity to go back in time.

The concerts are on November 12 and 13 at the historic Euskalduna Palace in a 2,164-seat auditorium in the beautiful Basque country. This will be followed by a solo concert on November 16. Of course, all concerts are special, but because this is something I have dreamt of since my childhood, it makes it that much more special.  —sitar@shubhendrarao.com



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