City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

Ravi Shankar - Evening Ragas Review

By Bill Dunlop - Posted on 24 August 2011

Fringe 2011: Ravi Shankar
Show details
The Usher Hall
Edinburgh International Festival
Running time: 
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.’

Event: 22 August

I too really enjoyed seeing Ravi Shankar - the first time since Woodstock in the summer of 1969. I was fascinated by his entourage sitting around him - at the feet of the master at the beginning. But once he had showed off his prowess he allowed each of them their turn.

But most of all for me was the interaction he had with Tanmoy Bose on the tamla. They came across as a very happy duo, and seemed reluctant to stop the fun they were having together. It was a real privilege to have been at the Usher Hall on Monday night.

I saw him live at the Glasgow Concert Hall some 15 to 20 years ago - after first seeing him in the Woodstock doc - and was just amazed at how fast his fingers travelled and the energy of his performance.