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Rakesh Chaurasia bansuri
Bhavani Shankar pakhawaj & Vijay Ghate tabla

Milapfest at Purcell Room, London, 23 May 2010

Rakesh, Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia's nephew, appeared on South Bank supported by Bhavani Shankar on pakhawaj (R) and on tabla Vijay Ghate (below).







Even for publicity photos, Indian classical musicians of today seem to be inseparable from their microphones and amplifying equipment! We had hoped that for a smallish audience in the front half of the Purcell Room they might have been dispensed with for once...

This was a splendid evening of high class music making, which would have been intrigued early music enthusiasts and been enjoyed - maybe against expectation? - by jazz fans; both their musics drawing heavily on improvisations of basic patterns.

And who hasn't thrilled to a pianist taking risks (sometimes live and unprepared) with the cadenzas of a well known concerto? One of my most treasured lifetime memories (recent memory has taken a knock; praise be to Google for regular assistance !) was being taken up to London by my boarding-school piano teacher to hear Medtner playing one of his own concertos and Beethoven's No 4 in the Albert Hall, the latter with an astonishing cadenza of his own creation; perhaps it was one of those to be found on the Web ?

Rakesh Chaurasia related to his Purcell Room audience with an easy natural manner and was obviously in excellent rapport with both his solo percussionists. He began on his own (no tanpura player on stage*) with a prolonged bansuri (transverse alto flute) solo alap, every extended phrase a flight of fancy to relish.

His jod and gat with Bhavani Shankar explored extremes of sensitivity, with subtle inventiveness which was a joy to follow; Shankar's fingers quiet as well as loud, and including novelty passages played with both hands on the treble end of his instrument.

The second half was lighter in tone, and intended for pure enjoyment, so it felt, with virtuosity and increasing volume prime elements to arouse the audience's excitement. The three musicians all joined forces briefly at the end, constrained by strict time limits on use of the hall (c.p. the music "party" at Bhavan with a "percussion battle" that went on and on...). For the last couple of minutes Chaurasia exchanged his mellow alto flute for a small one, giving us a dizzying virtuoso demonstration (comparable to Pamela Thorby's on her sopranino recorder the previous week) its all too soon ending received with a standing ovation.

The presentation was for the cognoscenti, without any programme notes as are usual for classical music concerts on South Bank Centre.

The main raag announced was, I think, the pentatonic Durga; for a mixed London audience it would have helped to have more information about its features, and something about the talas. Better that to have been presented on one of the three large screens, which dominated the artists sitting on the floor of their raised platform, instead of having them dwarfed by huge advertising images (see top of this page) and two more for Milapfest to left and right of their platform - telling us that music is to calm the soul and soothe the mind... I'd question the latter and prefer my mind to be stimulated and engaged...


* It's an electronic device to play back the Tanpura sound endlessly. It can be tuned to match the scale you are using manavk