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
Pianist Rita Bouboulidi is renowned for her dedication to Beethoven. She's performed his complete cycle of 32 sonatas nearly a dozen times, which says worlds about her determination. But determination wasn't quite enough to save an otherwise lackluster and almost dutiful recital.
Launching into Brahms's two enchanting Rhapsodies, Op. 79, on Sunday night even before the welcoming applause had died down, Bouboulidi's playing seemed perfunctory from the start. To be sure, the poor acoustics of the National Gallery of Art's West Garden Court tended to make everything sound over-pedaled and muddy. But the details of these lyrical pieces, which usually melt ecstatically in the ears, were lost in a vague and shapeless wash of sound.
Beethoven's Sonata in E, Op. 109, is one of his last great piano works. Carve it out with strength and passion, and you have music that soars through the rafters. Bouboulidi, unfortunately, never quite mustered the necessary torque to get this powerhouse off the ground.
Lackluster tempos, tentative phrasing and a lack of boldness throughout undermined an already bloodless interpretation, and the climactic moments, rather than exploding in glory, just clattered away for a while before dropping abjectly to the ground.
The concluding work, Schubert's magnificent "Wanderer" fantasy in C Minor, Op. 15, didn't fare much better. Sure, it's over-performed -- even goatherds in the Kalahari roll their eyes when they hear those familiar opening chords -- but this is some of Schubert's most fearless and innovative writing. Bouboulidi's account was, again, disappointingly timid -- a meek and fretful Wanderer with his eyes on the ground, tiptoeing on the rocky trail, wanting only to get home and safely into bed.
-- Stephen Brookes
Pianist Rita Bouboulidi gave a recital on Sunday at the National Gallery.