Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Kushal Das and Kumar Bose...

What: A review of a concert of Indian Classical Music sponsored by India Fine Arts, Austin (IFA)
Who: Kushal Das (Sitar) and Kumar Bose (Tabla)
Where: Jones Auditorium, St. Edwards University, Austin, Texas
When: 6:30 pm-9:30pm April 25, 2010

This review is offered as a service to the community interested in Indian Classical Music. We believe that reviews can be important channels for feedback to the artists, audiences and aficionados of music and are necessary to keep the field vibrant and the discussion lively. In this spirit comments on and reviews of this review are also most welcome.

The concert began with Kushal Das announcing cryptically that he would play Raag Monomanjari. No further explanation of the genealogy, origins or structure of this Raag was offered. Since Monomanjari is not a well known Raag by any stretch of the imagination this reviewer felt that the artist did an injustice to the audience by omitting any explanation of this Raag and its characteristics. The least he could have done was to mention that this Raag was a creation of the late Sitarist Pandit Nikhil Banerjee, that it essentially was an embellishment of the traditional evening Raag Puriya Kalyan with the addition of Komal Ni.

Kushal Das played Alaap, Jor, Jhala, Vilambit and Drut gats in Raag Manomanjari for a total of 1 hour and 20 minutes before declaring an intermission. The playing was full of virtuosity with the artist displaying good command of the Sitar. However the Raag did not come to life at any point of the performance and the listener was left to wonder what the mood or message of the Raag was. The Komal Ni crept into the beautiful structure of Puriya Kalyan as an anomaly and at best was a curiosity with no particular significance or meaning. The two gats in Teental were lacklustre with both gats sharing essentially the same melodic structure.

The performance livened up considerably when Kumar Bose entered the arena. His playing was brilliant and extremely responsive to the instrumentalist's improvisations. The percussionist's virtuoso accompaniment drew several rounds of enthusiastic applause. The solid tone of the Tabla and the colorful Benares style of playing was in full display and highly impressive. Kumar Bose's communication with the audience was also upbeat, positive and enthusiastic and in sharp contrast to the Sitarist's lack of interaction with the audience.

The second half of the concert consisted of the single Raag Khammach. The Sitar playing was mostly on frets and there was hardly any Meend work. A Raag such as Khammach can be played in a feminine Thumri style or orthodox masculine classical style. Kushal Das seemed ambiguous as to which style he was presenting and as a result, once again, the character of the Raag did not come to life. And once again Kumar Bose brought life to the concert in both the vilambit (slow) Rupak (7 beats) and drut (fast) Teental (16 beat) compositions with his virtuoso and stylish accompaniment.

Both artists were billed as Pandits. This listener was left to wonder how such a title is obtained in the present musical scenario in the context of North Indian Classical music. Is it conferred by the sponsoring organizations, by audiences, by All India Radio or Sangeet Kala Academy? Or is it self-conferred by the artist?

Sur Saadhak

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