Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Ravi Shankar

At 85, Ravi Shankar has been the reigning master of Indian classical music for several decades and is credited with integrating the exotic sound of the sitar into Western music, most famously with the Beatles. The sprightly octogenarian was joined by daughter Anoushka and other musicians at the Music Center at Strathmore Sunday night.

Though Ravi did not appear until after intermission, the first half of the concert was an excellent introduction to music from India. With her sitar -- a complicated-looking instrument with some 17 strings, as many tuning pegs and a two-foot-long neck -- Anoushka led an ensemble of Indian instruments.

The musicians sat cross-legged on a carpeted platform, each beating time subtly with the bare feet. A tanpura (drone), vina, sarod and violin made up the string section, along with an Indian flute, shanai (oboe), three singers and the ever-present plong of the tabla (drums). These exceptionally skilled and focused players showed off their talents in the joyful resonance of syncopated rhythms and brilliantly inspired solos. Anoushka displayed her skill in duet with the sarod, the string sound accentuated by an intensely exotic oboe and birdlike flute; the violin solo sounded strikingly similar to a jazz fiddle.

Surrounded by a simpler ensemble of tabla and two tanpuras, Ravi's agile fingers bent each note on his sitar in languid serenity. Slow and entrancing, this meditative music was not to be rushed. What followed was the pinnacle of the concert: a half-hour-long father-daughter jam session with shifting tempos and shifting moods between Ravi and Anoushka, propelled by tabla player Tanmoy Bose.

-- Gail Wein

Twelve Girls Band

The name Twelve Girls Band is somewhat of a misnomer: These musicians are more women than girls and more an orchestra than a band. And during the group's lively 90-minute instrumental performance at Lisner Auditorium on Sunday night, there were as many as 13 musicians onstage at any given time, but never exactly 12.

This Chinese ensemble played its contemporary classical music on traditional instruments. Three women played a four-stringed lute ( pipa ), two played a hammered dulcimer ( yang qin ), one played a zitherlike gu zheng, two played flutes and five played a two-stringed violin-like instrument called an erhu, which looked like a half-size fishing rod and rested on the musicians' hips.

More impressive than their individual command of strange instruments was their immaculate teamwork. At times the musicians seemed mechanical, barely looking down at their instruments, each with a uniform smile on her face. That calm delivery belied the group's skill, as the players energetically kept up with a recorded drumbeat on the escalating "Carnival" and blazed through "New Classicism," a jazzed-up medley of such recognizable classical melodies as Mozart's Symphony No. 40 in G Minor. The musicians barely interacted with each other or with the crowd, but their music was so breathtaking -- almost dizzying -- that no commentary from the performers was necessary.

-- Catherine P. Lewis

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