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Two Fascinating Programs Visit India

Indian music was on the menu Friday and Sunday at the CalArts Spring Music Festival. The two programs, nominally at least, surveyed the broad areas of expression generally described as North Indian and South Indian classical music. “Nominally,” because Friday’s South Indian event was broad and inclusive, focusing on the style’s eclecticism and adaptability, and Sunday’s North Indian program was a relatively straightforward example of the music in its essence.

The Friday concert opened with a mixture of the song forms traditional to Carnatic, or South Indian, music as well as original compositions by percussionist Trichy Sankaran and CalArts faculty member Poovalur Srinivasan. The heart of the evening, however, was an unusual blending of Carnatic and Balinese music (in the form of a gamelan--metal xylophones, gongs and percussion).

The results were fascinating at times, especially in the combination of timbres and less so when compositional structure tended to diminish the impassioned, emotional qualities typical of South Indian music.

Sunday night’s performance, featuring the work of sarod player Rajeev Taranath and tabla player Swapan Chaudhuri, was far more traditional. It opened with an enthusiastic, extremely well-played excursion through a 10-beat tala, a rhythmic cycle, by four talented young student tabla players.

The balance of the evening was largely given over to Taranath and Chaudhuri’s lengthy examination of a single raga, with a brief encore. Taranath is a disciple of the revered Ali Akbar Khan, and the deep, introspective alap (a freely articulated, meditative solo) with which he opened the performance resonated with the veteran master’s probing musical style.

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As Taranath and Chaudhuri proceeded to unfold the infinite layers of possibility that reside within all ragas and talas, the great beauty and sophistication of Indian classical music became clear. Attractive as the various instrumental combinations may have been over the two nights of programming, the greatest, most insightful pleasures emerged in this single performance, when the music was presented in its clear, uncluttered, pristine form.

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* The CalArts Spring Music Festival continues through March 21, at CalArts, 24700 McBean Parkway, Valencia, and other venues. (818) 362-2315.


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