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Pradeep’s tribute to Ravi Shankar

An interview with Pradeep Ratnayake about his upcoming concert Pradeepanjalee 17 at the Lionel Wendt Theatre on February 23 at 7 p.m.

Question: This is the 17th Pradeepanjalee concert that you are having in Sri Lanka. What is special about it?

Answer: This is a tribute to Ravi Shankar, who has been my hero since I was very small.


Pradeep Ratnayake

I loved how he mixed different styles together and the way he did it so effortlessly. 

He was also a terrific classical player – and made the Indian raga popular around the world. And from the time he passed away, I have been wanting to play his pieces here in Sri Lanka as an honour to him.

Q. What pieces will you play?

A. Pancham se ghara, which he made popular in the groundbreaking Montery Pop Festival in 1967. Then I will also play the theme music that Ravi Shankar composed and played for Sathyajith Ray’s film Pathar Panchali. To play the piece that Ravi Shankar played with world famous violinist Yehudi Menuhin, Raga Peelu, I will be joined by Ananda Dabare on the violin.

This piece came in the “East Meets West” album by Shankar that won the Grammy Award in 1967. Then there is another piece with the flute that Sureka Amarasinghe will join me to play. It is Morning Love that Shankar did with Jean-Pierre Rampal. In all this, Peshala Manoj will be accompanying me on the tabla.

Q. Some time has passed since your last Pradeepanjalee concert in Sri Lanka. What have you been doing during the last year?

A. I have been working as the Head of the Department of Languages and Cultural Studies in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences in the University of Sri Jayewardhanapura, and that takes a lot of my time, as I am introducing many new courses to the students and trying to make it one of the best departments of music in the country. And I was busy working on a project with the Japanese Embassy and the Japan Foundation, using music to bring understanding among people, using the ‘Randooga’ method created by famous Japanese Jazz pianist Prof. Masahiko Satoh.

We travelled all to Jaffna, Batticoloa and Galle. It was a learning experience for me as well.

Great musicians

Q. You have given many Pradeepanjalee concerts abroad. Could you speak about those as well?

A. I have been lucky to find great musicians abroad who have taken the stage with me to play my music. There are many memorable Pradeepanjalee shows.

One of the best was at the Weil Auditorium at Carnegie Hall, New York, when my own professors at Columbia University which I was attending on a Fulbright scholarship, joined me on stage.

My Jazz Prof. Ben Waltzer, modern music guru, guitarist Arthur Kampella, and Dr. Terry Pender on mandolin, they all played pieces with me and we had a great time.

Then another memorable occasion was when my friend Ramon Jaffe, the German cellist and the Neubrandenburg Philharmonic Orchestra commissioned work from me and I composed the ‘Kuveni Concerto’ – a concerto with the sitar and cello as the main instruments backed by a symphony orchestra.

It premiered in Germany in 2010. I have been invited to perform this again with the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra in South Africa next month. Yasuo Shinozaki will conduct this, with Boris Kerimov playing the cello and me, the sitar. It was lovely to see their website, advertising the concert and have my name along with Rossini and Beethoven!

Q. Apart from being a performer, you are a composer. What have you been doing at that end?

A. My most recent work is in the film Siddhartha The Gautama produced by the Light of Asia Foundation.


At a music workshop in Jaffna with Prof. Satoh

It won the Best Film Award in the World Cinema category in the last New Delhi Film Festival. That film had a lot of music so it was a lot of work. But it was worth it at the end.

Classical music

Q. What about your compact discs?

A. The newest classical music CD will come out at the concert on February 23. It is an album that I recorded in the USA during my Fulbright period. Therefore, the first CD will be presented to Tissa Jayatilaka, the Executive Director of the Sri Lanka – United States Fulbright Commission, at Pradeepanjalee 17. My Sri Lankan friends in the New York and New Jersey all helped in funding the recording.

The tabla was played by Nitin Mitta who is one of the most well-known tablists in New York now. The album was recorded by Dr. Terry Pender. The CD is called Santhutti, which means ‘joy’. It has many ragas that are conducive to creating a very positive mood in the listener. Ragas have that power.

Q. Anything else to tell our readers about the concert?

A. The box plan will be available at the Lionel Wendt from the February 13.

The concert is made possible with the sponsorship of Nelung Dance Academy, whose founder Niloufer Pieris has helped me hold concerts twice before. This time she is co-sponsoring to celebrate her mother’s birth centenary and her father’s birthday which falls on the same day.

The DFCC Bank is also coming in as a sponsor, as is Torana Music Box. Prajaya Studio, which is bringing out the Santhutti CD is involved as well. I am glad that I am getting a chance to play Ravi Shankar’s music that I love so much. I hope everyone will be there to listen to it.

- RS

 

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