A thrilling performance by Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma’s Santoor ensemble at the Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall (BMICH) here on Thursday, was a fitting finale to the Indian Independence Day celebrations in the Sri Lankan capital.
Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma, his son Pandit Rahul Sharma and percussionists Yogesh Samsi on the Tabla and Bhavani Shankar on the Pakhawaj, began the concert with an elaborate rendition of the South Indian raga Vachaspati.
Displaying perfect understanding of each other’s musical sensibilities and expectations, the father-son duo took the packed hall on a voyage of discovery of the raga.
Along the journey, one also saw the amazing potential of the 100-stringed Santoor, which before Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma’s time, was but a Kashmiri folk instrument meant to play simple rural melodies.
Once in the hands of the daring and innovative Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma, the humble instrument of the Kashmiri shepherd and peasant was transformed into a mainstream stringed instrument capable of meeting the rigorous demands of Hindustani classical music.
In the hands of seasoned players like the Sharmas, today’s improved Santoor can match the piano in both subtlety and grandeur.
Before he started off the concert, Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma briefly spoke about a basic difference between Western and Indian music. While Western music is reduced to notations and is therefore set, Indian classical music is based entirely on improvisation whether the concert is that of an individual artiste or by an ensemble of artistes.
“ We do not rehearse before a performance. This concert has not been rehearsed. What we play individually or collectively comes out on the spur of the moment. The understanding between the players stems not from any notations in front of them but from experience and rigorous practice,” he said.
"Along the journey, one also saw the amazing potential of the 100-stringed Santoor, which before Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma’s time, was but a Kashmiri folk instrument meant to play simple rural melodies"
The audience was enthralled by the spontaneous improvisations and amazing skill with which the artistes coaxed subtle notes out of their Santoors and the bold passages they executed.
The second part of the concert was understandably folksy, given the fact that the Santoor is essentially a folk instrument inextricably tied to the pastoral culture of the Kashmir Valley.
As Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma indicated in his introduction, many of the passages were similar to the tunes used in Hindi film songs.
Incidentally, Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma had himself composed music for Bollywood blockbusters like Silsila, Chandani, Lamhe and Darr.
The second half also showed traces of Western music, which was not surprising since modern Indian (or Bollywood) music is a unique mixture of the East and West. In fact, Rahul Sharma has, in the last 20 years of his musical career, carved a niche for himself in East-West fusion music.
He has 60 albums to his credit including the best-selling “Namaste India” in which he partnered with the world-renowned saxophonist, Kenny G.
The two percussionists Bhavani Shankar on the Pakhawaj and Yogesh Samsi on the Tabla, matched the virtuosity of the Santoor maestros on the centre-stage as they gave them rhythmic support. The audience could not but applaud as the percussionists excelled in fast passages and at other times made their drums sing softly. It was heartening to see the world’s Santoor maestros generously giving opportunities to the percussionists to showcase their explosive talent.
The concert Strings of Harmony organized by the Indian High Commission had successfully harnessed music for the building of peace and good relations between India and Sri Lanka.
A well-made audiovisual on India-Sri Lanka relations which preceded the concert, gave a glimpse of the multifaceted relationship and showed how India cares for Sri Lanka.
The concert was attended by ministers, and religious dignitaries, including Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith and Buddhist monks, students and music lovers. The Sri Lankan parliament Speaker Karu Jayasuriya was the chief guest.