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The gorgeous Darbar celebration at Royal Festival Hall



Chitrangana Agle-Reshwal mesmerises the audience with her deft handling. Playing solo gentle where it mattered, superceding a male player on this instrument.

Ten years ago if someone asked me to listen to Indian classical and carnatic music at the Royal Festival Hall, I would have though that person to be out of his mind. Not so today though this form of music is French to me except the little I was associated with at the Kalashestra where I studied Indian Classical dance for awhile.

By and by I got used to the sounds that came off their instruments or the rhythmic beats that went into my footwork. I appreciated the sitar and the tabla.

We had the great Ravi Shankar dropping by Kalshestra on and off but he was at that time, only a genius in the making.

But no way can I comprehend or compare English classical music I studied that still run through my blood.

Finally, when I decided to go to the Darbar Festival at the Royal Festival Hall, I thought I was out of my mind. My fried Maya too was not keen but we went over with open minds, just out of curiosity.

Curiosity

Was I disappointed?
While curiosity killed the cat, I found my feet tapping gently to the beats of the tabla; I turned around to see whether it was a predominant Indian audience. I was quite surprised to see very few, they were all Britons I supposed.

The Lucknow style tabla solo took off on a beat that sounded like the drop of heavy rain and continued to a crescendo. It was a breathtaking solo but only a phenomenon like Pandit Swapan Chaudri could thump. His music is the spontaneous expression of powerful emotion with a deep knowledge of the instrument of which I know very little but able to understand how it is handled to produce such a deep vibrating sound on the human ear.


Pandit Swapan Chaudhri, one of the world's greatest tabla players

Pandit Chaudri had debuted at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in 2006 and kept coming back every year for the festive season and perform along with such great names as Vladimir Jurowskl, Sir Simon Rattle, Sir Marl Elder and Esa-Pekka Solenen. The tabla provides an insight into the life and times of Pandit Swapan Chaudri, celebrated as one of the greatest tabla players.

Darbar festival

The celebrated event in all its oriental splendour, the glory that is Indian, in all its form features Indian classical music performed by world-renowned musicians from India and the United Kingdom. The festival offers the rare opportunity to hear Hindustan, Carnatic and Drupad traditions that have been evolving for centuries.

The Darbar Festival's Artistic Director emphasises the high quality that Indian music is made of and one of the finest classical forms in the world. Artistic director, Sandeep Virdee leaves no stone unturned to bring out the essence from his troupe.

The ancient texts of the Vedas contain the raga traditions that make up the bulk of the classics and passed down orally until the last century when it was noted but sadly remains one of India's most overlooked art forms with insufficient data not held in any repertory but the legacy continues.

This leads to outstanding masters dying in total obscurity.

But the 20th century changed the scenario to surface greats such as Ravi Shankar, Zakir Hussain and Vilayat Khan, but there is an array of a phenomenal set of musicians who have been rarely or not heard outside India. Prominent among them is the spectacular Chitrangana-Agle Reshwal the only female double-sided drum player who performed a rare solo that stunned not only me but the whole auditorium.

Along with Pandit Choudri, there were Ram Deshpand who made his debut and regarded as one of the most talented and upcoming maestros in Indian vocals but the enigmatic Pushpraj Koshti who played the surbahar, an instrument like a bass sitar, really intrigued me.

Quality performers

Though Darbar features the highest quality performers on Indian classical music which even BBC Radio airs, they do not only focus on the established ones.

The doors are open to the very talented ones seeking recognition and they afford them the opportunity to help develop and come to the United Kingdom for exposure.

To artistic director, Sandeep Virdee, classical Indian music belongs to all; it is their global heritage. So, he makes it his mission to present them in the truest form.

At the Royal Festival Hall, along with the one I attended, there had been 15 concerts with ‘in conversation sessions’ to update those who wanted information before they sat down to hear them play. There was something to please everyone, from the ardent followers of the genre to complete novices like me. The concerts were time to immerse yourself in ragas which means to create a melody, at the correct time of day to maximise enjoyment and connecting the most outstanding music.

The Royal Festival Hall runs special concerts from 10 am to 10.30 so to allow the musicians to play the rages at their tradition period of the day. Then the correct feel is surfaced.

On the day I saw the Darbar Festival in attendance, it was with Khan a seventh-generation musician, deputing morning Ragas UK concert performing the gayaki style on the sitar which imitated the subtleties of the human voice.

He was accompanied on the tabla by one of India's greatest tabla maestros, Pandit Swapan Chauduri. Earlier, I saw Chitrangana Agle-Reshwal, the only female player on the double-sided drum. She was simply out of this world.

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