Don’t you love it when something comes along, quite unexpectedly, and just knocks your socks off?
Taking a punt (as one should every so often) I recently bought a recording of a symphony for western orchestra and sitar written by the great Indian musician Ravi Shankar, and have been listening to it with almost religious fervour ever since. Shankar is no stranger to non-Indian musical traditions and has had major collaborations with musicians such as Yehudi Menuhin, George Harrison, Philip Glass and Andre Previn, to name just a few. This new work, written in 2010 for the London Philharmonic Orchestra, follows the 4 movement structure of the traditional symphony but within each movement the Indian sitar is given a prominent, almost concerto-like, role, which harks back to a series of sitar concertos he wrote in the early 1970s for the London Symphony Orchestra. Here the sitar is rapturously played by his daughter Anoushka, herself a virtuoso, and the roar of approval from the audience at the end is fully deserved for this hugely enjoyable work! If you’re a registered Victorian user of the State Library you can listen to it right now via the Naxos Music Library, and lots more of Shankar’s remarkable music as well!
This updated 2008 edition of Shankar’s autobiography, originally published in 1968, gives a vivid introduction not just to Shankar’s life but also the wider world of Indian music and the extraordinary beauty of the sitar, the remarkable instrument that simply sounds like India. Philip Glass in his Foreword says it all: “It is easy to fall into the habit of thinking of the great masters of music as beings who existed in some distant time…….Yet one of those masters is here among us now. To have had the privilege to work with him, to know him or even to have heard him perform live onstage must surely be one the most remarkable and memorable passages of one’s musical life.”
The picture on the front cover of this book is rather moving, showing as it does Yehudi Menuhin and Ravi Shankar performing together. It was Menuhin who, with his inexhaustible curiosity and enthusiasm, probably did more in the mid 20th century to draw the West’s attention to Indian classical music than any other single person. Since then the range of western musicians who have fallen under its influence is quite staggering and continues apace, from the Beatles in the sixties and seventies (particularly George Harrison) through to Terry Riley, John Coltrane, Philip Glass and even the Grateful Dead! This fascinating book explores in some depth both the music and the people behind it, east and west.
As usual these encyclopedias from Garland give a terrifically detailed overview of the music scene on the Indian Subcontinent, and they are available on the reference shelves in Arts.