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.
I loved how he mixed different styles together and the way he did it
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.
We travelled all to Jaffna, Batticoloa and Galle. It was a learning
experience for me as well.
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
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
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.
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
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.