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Sunday, 16 January 2011





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Autographing the rich legacy with master fingertips

Ragas from New York, a classical music concert by Pradeep Ratnayake and Nitin Mitta was held at the Lionel Wendt Theatre on January 6. It was a rare performance by Pradeep Ratnayake together with visiting Indian tablist Nitin Mitta who is based in the US.

Though Pradeep Ratnayake is famous for his fusion music, the authentic classical music concert Ragas from New York proved among other things, that Pradeep is at home with the North Indian classical music.

Pradeep Ratnayake accompanied by Sangeet Nipun Manjula Seveviratne and Lecturer Asith Atapattu

The performance commenced with the Rag Khedar. The principal mood of the Raga is devotion. Named after Lord Shiva, the Rag Khedar is one of the key Ragas in the North Indian Classical music. A prominent characteristic of the Raga is the representation of panorama of complex melodic gestures and conduct. The Raga would be a food for soul in the hand of a genius performer and would be intolerable in the hands of an amateur performer. Raga Khedar belonging to an ancient era is manifested in every conceivable genre in the North Indian Classical music tradition such as Dhrupad, Dhamar, Khayal, Thumri. According to the tradition, Pradeep commenced Rag Khedar with Alap, Jod and Jhala. In the Maihar Gharana (a comprehensive musicological ideology), the Alap is played in the style of Dhrupad . In the first part of the Alap, Dhrupad Anga is played while in the second part, the play is shifted to Jod Alap . The climax of the Alap is Jhala.

In the next stage Gat is played. Gat is a fixed composition played accompanied by the Tabla. The playing of the Gat is different from one Gharana to another. Tala or rhythmic framework for the performance is Teen Taal (16 beats), Vilambit laya (Slow tempo), Ektaal ( 12 beats) in fast tempo.

Some of the famous songs such as Patu Adahas Nam Pauren sung by W.D Ameradeva were based on this Rag. True to the description, the Raga was played with its intrinsic characteristics making the audience spellbound.

Pradeep played Rag Tilak Kamod as the second item. He played the Avichar Alap in Teen Taal and in Sitarkani taal (medium tempo). This Rag has a pleasant structure and some musicians maintain that the vadi is Sa and the samvadi is Pa. Other musicians claim that Re is the vadi.

It is Shadav-Sampurna due to the omission of Dha in the arohana. It is performed in the second part of the night. The popular Raga has a mass appeal. Even in this Raga, the performance of both Pradeep and Nitin was outstanding. Pradeep was able to exploit the subtle effect and the atmosphere created by the Raga on the audience.

After the interval, Pradeep played Rag Kafi. It is a semi-classical Raga in Deepchandi Taal ( Rhythmic framework of 14 beats). It was a short piece. It is an important rag in the Hindustani classical tradition. According to the classification of Pundit Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande,

Ragas have ten different logical groups, consisting of various closely related Ragas; Kafi is one of them. The Kafi is not quite an ancient raga. According to Pandit Bhatkhande, the name of the Raga first appears in the Raga Tarangini of Lochana Pandit who lived in the Mithila district around the fifteenth century. Kafi has a direct association with the Indian folk music. For instance, diverse folk musics such as Tappa, Hori, Dadra, Kirtan and devotional songs are based on this Raga.

Rag Mand Khamaj and diverse techniques

The next item was the Rag Mand Khamaj. This Rag is in Kherva Taal (rhythmic framework of 8 beats). Then he shifted on to the fast beat mode called Dhruta Taal ending with Jhala. Some of the special techniques unique to Maihar Gharana such as Satsangat ( a dialogue with Tabla , specialty of this technique is that two instruments played simultaneously) , Kirintan have been employed from time to time during the concert. It was an embellishment for the concert to evoke sublime feelings of the informed members of the audience.

In addition, Pradeep and Nitin played Saval Javap , question and respond session between Sitar and Tabla. Another difficult technique Pradeep employed in this item is Raga Chaya (Shadow of other Ragas within the Raga), the Change of moods of the Raga within a short span of time. Pradeep played ten ragas such as Khedar, Hamir, Basant , Malkauns, Khamaj, Raga Hamsadhwani etc. within Rag Mand Khamaj. This is an extremely difficult technique employed by genii such as Hariprasad Chaurasia , Ustad Amir Khan, Pundit Shivakumar Sharma etc. In this performance, he followed techniques including the techniques mentioned above, practised by the followers of the Maihar Gharana; Pundit Ravi Shankar, Uslad Ali Akbar Khan, founder of the Gharana Ustad Allauddin khan, Anapurna Deevi , Pannalal Ghosh, Vishwa Mohan Bhatt. , Prof. Indranil Bhattacharya(Pradeep Ratnayake's teacher)'s father Timil Bharan was the first pupil of the founder of the Gharana and his teacher Prof. Indranil Bhattacharya was last disciple of Ustad Allauddin khan. It was in this performance that Pradeep demonstrated his versatility in the tradition. For instance, it is only a highly accomplished player who could play techniques such as Saval Javap and Rag Chaya.

The last item of the concert was a composition in Dhun style which is a light piece. For the performance , Pradeep has selected popular songs based on Ragas such as Sirisarusala Kette ( based on Rag Phandi ) and the Ravindranath Tagore's song Ekla Chalo (walk forward). The song Sirisarusala Kette is a popular Sinhalese song associated with harvesting of Paddy while Ekla Chalo is an Indian patriotic song associated with the Indian freedom struggle against the British. This performance demonstrated, among other things, how a musician could apply Raga in popular music domain.

Nitin Mitta who accompanied Pradeep Ratnayake in performance rendered an exemplary performance manifesting his versatility in the instrument. It should be mentioned here that it was extremely difficult to accompany the Tabla with a Star performance unlike in a Tabla solo performance. One of such constraints is maintaining Tabla's presence throughout the performance without masking the Sitar. His versatility was particularly manifested in Saval Javap where the Tabla responded to the Sitar. Nitin Mitta has a reputation as a tablist with a rare combination of technical virtuosity, spontaneity, clarity of tone, and sensitivity to melodic nuance. He belongs to the prestigious Farukabad Gharana. He is a highly sought after accompanist who has performed with some of India's most celebrated musicians, including Pandit Jasraj, Pandits Rajan and Sajan Mishra, Pandit Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, Ustad Nishat Khan and Ustad Shahid Parvez. Nitin has also made a mark as a versatile collaborator in other spheres performing alongside Jazz Pianist Vijay Iyer and Carnatic Electric Guitarist Prasanna in a unique trio band named Tirtha. His work with Prasanna can be heard on the soundtrack of the Oscar-winning documentary 'Smile Pinki'.

Predeep held his first ever solo classical performance in 1974 at the National Museum Auditorium when he was ten years old and his second classical performance was held at the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation at the age of sixteen just after his Ordinary Level Examination. This was his third pure classical music performance. Though Pradeep performed pure classical ragas after thirty years interval, it is clear that Pradeep is at home with the tradition, preserving the characteristics of the Maihar Gharana in which he developed his career in music.

His versatility and sensitivity to the nuanced of the tradition was manifested in the use of techniques such as Saval Javap, Satsangat and Kirintan. Ragas from New York would have been refreshing music experience for a cosmopolitan audience which has a little exposure to North Indian pure classical music performances. Although the audience may not be conversant with the highly classical North Indian music, the exemplary performance would have convinced them of the rich tradition of North Indian classical music which is one of the major music traditions of the world. It should be mentioned that a senior citizen in the audience who works for an organisation that completely dazzle was seen tapping as a response to the last item of the concert. It is Pradeep's responsibility to raise the public taste in order to raise the standard of appreciation such as that of the 'gentleman' who refuses to recognise talents and with a poor understanding of classical art. Pradeep who is efficient in both fusion music and performing complex Ragas such as Marva which he performed brilliantly for one and half hours ( If I remember correct) at the Lionel Edirisinghe Memorial Hall of the University of the Visual and Performing Arts, a few years back , could raise the public taste and create an audience for highly classical North Indian music.

It is such an audience which appreciate both authentic Western classical music and North Indian Classical music performed by serious musicians such as Lakshman Joseph de Saram , Dr. Nirmala Kumari Rodrigo and Dr. Thushara Ratnayake etc. It should also be mentioned that Pradeep should attempt to educate a section shallow audience who attend in vogue each and every event including some Professors in the fields other than arts and literature who find excuses for merging cheap fantasies with serious arts.



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