Correction to This Article
The June 26 Style review of a Gay Men's Chorus concert incorrectly described the song "At the Window." It is about a gay man's desire to adopt a son, not a gay man unable to visit his hospitalized partner.
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-- Andrew Lindemann Malone


The surbahar is often described as a "bass sitar," but that doesn't mean it plays the subsidiary role commonly assigned to bass guitar. As surbahar virtuoso Shubha Sankaran demonstrated Sunday evening at the Gandhi Memorial Center, the instrument has a deeper tone than the sitar but is entirely as versatile.

The Indian-born and -educated musician, a longtime Washingtonian, has composed documentary soundtracks and recorded several albums, including the recent "Resurrecting a Raga." On Sunday, she played "Yamen," a commonly performed evening raga. As is customary, she introduced and then developed the melody during the alap, the lyrical introductory section that can be -- and on this occasion, was -- a raga's main event. Her approach was meditative, yet not without surprises; often she would play a phrase that seemed almost too simple, only to transform it with a sudden twist.

For the final quarter of the 40-minute raga, Sankaran was joined by Manik Munde on the pakhawaj, a barrel drum whose two heads produce very different timbres. The interplay was propulsive, if no more complex than the intricate counterpoint Sankaran played by herself.

Munde and sitarist Brian Q. Silver, Sankaran's spouse, then performed a second raga, "Gavati." Although trained in India, Silver has been experimenting with Persian and Arabic styles of playing and structure.

Rather than gradually heighten the music's intensity, the two players adopted a loping, conversational mode, and Silver's attack was sharp rather than slippery. Both the sitar and the pakhawaj are more versatile than their Persian counterparts, so the music had depth and freedom that seemed entirely Indian.

The concert ended with a brief but lively pakhawaj solo. Munde kept the beat with one hand and embroidered it with the other, switching the pattern several times, always so fluidly that the transition was almost imperceptible.

-- Mark Jenkins

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