The word "raga" refers to the basic melodic form of a composition used for improvisation in Indian classical music. Its Sanskrit root means to color with emotion. And on Friday night at Meyer Auditorium at the Freer Gallery of Art, emotions ran deep and colors blossomed when sitarist Kartik Seshadri and tabla player Subhankar Banerjee played three ragas in the North Indian style.
Seshadri dedicated "Purya Dhanashri," an evening raga, as a "prayer for peace." He teased out pensive melodies rhapsodically in the opening solo, bending low notes slowly with the intimate expression of a vocalist. When Banerjee finally entered with his two-piece hand drum, it was plain you were in the presence of a master musician. The base of his left palm controlled tension on the drumhead, while arched fingers tapped out tones like a furious typist. On the smaller drum, right-hand fingers popped interlocking patterns with lightning speed, perfectly articulated.
The mood of the second raga, "Mallika Priya," was delicate and tender. Seshadri, who has studied with Ravi Shankar since 1974, composed the piece based on melodies from south Indian ragas, and named it after his daughter.
The clear audience favorite came last. Seshadri explained that "Mishra Kafi" was from a group of ragas known for their lyricism and romance. The mood here was sensual, even blissful. Melodies sang sweetly, with the piece ending in an ecstatic cloud of swirling notes.
-- Tom Huizenga