A night of sublime music

By Dev Nadkarni

More recently, Kiwi Indians have had a bonanza of Indian performing artistes coming their way. While most of these have been performers of more popular fare of the mass appeal Bollywood variety, there have been a few of the refined classical genre.

One such was the father-son sitarist duo of celebrated veteran Pandit Debu Chaudhuri and his enormously talented son Prateek, who performed at the Auckland Town Hall on March 24.

The concert began with Prateek’s performance, which, as well as being immensely entertaining, proved to be a most effective Hindustani Classical Music 101 lecture one could ever hope for.

The appreciation of classical music has a lot to do with nurture and long term exposure besides discussions and interactions with those in the know about its various nuances. While many may have a ear for classical music, the richness of its experience necessarily comes when the novice listener is familiarised with the finer points during a performance by the performers themselves. And that’s what Prateek Chaudhury did with great elan.

Beginning the concert with raga Yaman Kalyan, he went on to explain every stage of its exploration in the classical style, the intricacies of taal cycles, arriving at the sam with the table player every time, the creativity and individual stamp an artiste puts on each extempore improvisation and many finer aspects to help increase the listener’s appreciation of the artiste’s offering.

He did this with great aplomb and with perfect teamwork with his veteran tabla accompanist Pandit Anup Ghosh. In the course of expounding on the Yaman, he brought in passages from popular Hindi film songs based on the raga, which most listeners would be able to identify, establishing the link between the raga and the song.

He also regaled listeners with the entire gamut of improvisations – from rhythmless alaps, slow jod, jhala, gat and fast drut, interspersing the rendition with sawaal-jawabs with the tabla and superbly intricate triple tihayees.

Prateek is an associate professor of music at Delhi University and it was evident from his lec-dem style presentation that he is as gifted as a teacher as he is as a performer. His presentation at the concert would have gone a long way in enhancing the appreciation of Hindustani classical music for several listeners.

Next to perform was Dr Chintamani Rath with his violin. Dr Rath, who lives in Tauranga, is plays both Hindustani and Western classical music and has performed for audiences worldwide, including for the late Pope John Paul II. He first played raga Hindoli and then a Bengali folk song, the lyrics of which he recited and translated for the audience.

The senior violinist had never ever performed – not even so much as practised – with Pandit Ghosh but both artiste and accompanist were on the spot when it came to anticipating each other. “That’s how it always is in Hindustani classical music,” the erudite Dr Rath said to the audience at the end of his presentation. It is not often that one gets to listen to a Hindustani classical performance on violin in this part of the world. We could certainly hear more of this great local talent.

Last to take to the stage was the father son duo of Pandit Debu Chaudhury and Prateek. Panditji is among India’s foremost sitar exponents, a respected Guru and teacher, a composer of numerous symphonies, has created eight new ragas, authored three books and won numerous awards and honours, both national and global.

Panditji began with a slow exposition of raga Jhinjhoti with a rich, extended alap, the slowness of pace offering a decided contrast to Prateek’s faster offering in his inaugural Yaman. Clearly, his style of presentation, especially in the early stages, was for the mature listener. He rounded off his first piece with raga Bihag in a faster tempo ably aided by Prateek. The two sitarists and the tabaliya provided a feast of rhythmic calisthenics toward the end of the piece.

The concert concluded with Panditji and Prateek playing a couple of Bengali folk tunes followed by a Hindi film song at the insistence of some in the audience. Undoubtedly, it was one of the more memorable Hindustani classical concerts heard in Auckland in recent times.

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Auckland visit a walk down memory lane for Panditji

For Pandit Debu Chaudhuri, his Auckland visit was a walk down memory lane, catching up with old friends. He met up with former longtime Times of India music critic Mohan Nadkarni, now 90, during his stay in the city. The veteran writer had reviewed Panditji’s first Mumbai concert in the newspaper in the 1960s and predicted that he would emerge as one of the instrument’s top exponents. It was also an opportunity for Panditji to catch up with an old neighbour from Mumbai, again back from the 1960s and 1970s – Indian Weekender publisher Giri Gupta, with whose family Panditji and his entourage shared a meal.

First appeared in Indian Weekender , April 2012