Music review, Ravi Shankar at Symphony Center

Music IndustryIndiaRavi Shankar

Ravi Shankar is a conjurer. He is, of course, the acknowledged genius of the sitar, the world's most renowned Indian musician and composer, who almost single-handedly popularized India's classical music around the globe. But he can also make time stand still, as evidenced by his sold-out concert Friday night at Symphony Center — part of a current tour dubbed "Full Circle," honoring Shankar's 80th birth year.

Nearly three hours elapsed from the moment Shankar's 19-year-old sitar-prodigy daughter Anoushka Shankar took the stage, spotlighting music from her own two albums, until both Shankars and their accompanying musicians took their final bows. Yet it felt like a fraction of that time; heads shook in disbelief as house lights went up and wristwatches were checked. Such is the power of the raga — the ornate, microtonic, improvisatory melodic form that Shankar himself terms "the heart of Indian music" — that he and his daughter performed so spellbindingly in piece after rhythmically multifarious piece.

Anoushka Shankar's opening set was absorbing and often thrilling, highlighted by material from her panoramic new album "Anourag." Regally outfitted in a layered Indian garment called salwar kameez, its iridescent blue-green trimmed with gold a dramatic contrast to the pearl-hued silk sherwani tunics worn by the four male musicians. Shankar the younger displayed a commanding virtuosity well beyond her years. Anoushka was flanked by a pair of dazzling young percussionists, tabla masters Bikram Ghosh and Tanmoy Bose, all three of them seated on the stage floor, while arrayed in the background were Ajay Sharma and Alan Kozlowski, respectively handling treble and bass tamboura, the enigmatic stringed instrument that added the vital element of drone.

Particularly engaging was "Hamsadhwani Tabla Duet," a brief, lively piece accented by Ghosh and Bose making tabla sounds with their voices in a lickety-split dialogue. Shankar, herself, the only sitarist on the planet trained entirely by her father, demonstrated eyebrow-raising dexterity as well as emotional connectedness on her complex, many-voiced instrument.

But when Shankar senior appeared after intermission, to a heartfelt standing ovation, it was clear that Anoushka (who then played a deferential second fiddle, as it were, to Ravi) has only begun to approach the majesty of her father's prowess. Time did not appear to have diminished his agility on the physically demanding sitar, and his spiritual mastery of it appeared more potent than ever. As Shankar built each raga incrementally, from the alap (the tranquil solo-sitar intro) to the gal (the tabla-driven fixed composition) to the exhilarating, climactic jhala (with its high-speed, frequently frolicsome call-and-response between sitar and tabla) the color, richness and depth of his performance was enrapturing.

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