The Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and his disciples are masters of spectacle, and Friday night's concert at the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater was no exception. The program was performed on a stage surrounded by potted plants and flowers, with a large photo of the Maharishi behind the performers, and a banner hanging across the stage proclaiming, "Maharishi's Festival of Music for World Peace." Preceding the music was a half-hour broadcast over two giant TV monitors, in which the Maharishi rambled on about the connections between Transcendental Meditation, the unified field, natural law, consciousness and Gandharvan music.
This lengthy preamble was probably regrettable, since the unusual music stood well on its own. Gandharva music, in the form of the raga, explores through improvisation a continuum of sounds, much like the music of Philip Glass or new age music.
The highlight was Gahsi Ram Nirmal's performance on the jaltarang, an instrument composed of about a dozen porcelain bowls filled with water to create a scale of notes. Nirmal's improvisation on the raga "Mal Kuans" slowly unfolded its melodic content, the rhythm increasing through his interplay with tabla player Lal Mishra. By its unwinding conclusion, the repetitious -- and distinctively Oriental -- melody had been firmly established.
The second half of the concert featured vocalists Rajan Mishra and Sajan Rishra, performing three ragas in which their sonorous voices subtly accomplished what Nirmal's jaltarang had achieved.