Wigmore Hall, bastion of chamber music, opens doors to Amjad Ali Khan

Chicago: Next month London`s Wigmore Hall, which specialises in chamber music, will take the unprecedented step of awarding a residency to sarod maestro Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, the first time that its has opened up its space to classical music of another culture.

The Financial Times of London noted that with this gesture, Wigmore director John Gilhooly has joined Khan`s global fan club, whincludes Prince Charles, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the Dalai Lama.

Nevertheless, it has been a mutual process of discovery, as much for Khan as for Gilhooly. Khan had earlier performed with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Scotland`s national chamber orchestra, based in Edinburgh, leaving him a bit wistful on their sense of musical discipline.

"What amazed me at the Scottish Chamber Orchestra is that scores of musicians could collectively produce such beautiful music. It requires tremendous discipline and a great respect for the conductor. In India, musicians are individualists. We have, therefore, never produced an orchestra of international stature. The British ruled us for so many years, but we have missed that discipline," Khan told IANS in an interview here.

"I wrote for the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. This was the first sarod concerto in the West and it was performed in an ancient church," said Khan.

The awareness of the inherent harmony between varied music cultures has also brought about a personal realization. "My father(Ustad Hafiz Ali Khan) always told me that to be a complete musician, I must see the good in other musical traditions. I can fully understand his advice now," said Khan.

Unlike many Indian classical musical purists, Khan has never been reluctant to experiment or collaborate with other musical traditions. "Everything is everywhere", a collaborative project between Khan, his sons, Amaan, Ayaan and Carrie Newcomer, an American folk singer and songwriter, will be released in the United States next month.

In 2009 he had teamed up with Iraqi oud (repeat oud) virtuoso Rahim AlHaj for the album "Ancient sounds"

Khan said that despite the onslaught of Bollywood music in India, classical music has consolidated its position among connoisseurs, thanks to music festivals and corporate sponsorship.

"There are corporate houses which value the Indian music tradition and there are festivals like Dovers Lane Music Festival in Kolkatta and the Harivallabh Sangeet Sammelan (the oldest Indian classical music festival which completes 136 years this year), which have given it a boost. Bengal, Maharashtra and the four South Indian states have done a good job of balancing tradition and westernization in music," he said.

Classical music makes for an arduous vocation, said Khan.

"In India, more must be done to encourage musicians, who generally receive honors late in life. Musicians must be encouraged when they are in their twenties, just like sportsmen. Otherwise young musicians get demoralized. Choosing classical music as a vocation is like entering a dark tunnel with the faintest hope of a light at the end of it. It can be a journey fraught with great anxiety, for one who has surrendered his life to the guru and to god."

Reflecting an increasing interest in Indian classical music, Khan has taught music in universities across the United States and is now in the process of finalization a teaching assignment at a university in California. In the past, Khan has explained to western students that one`s first exposure to the rhythm of music is in the womb, from the mother`s heartbeat.

Not too long ago in the west, the sarod was considered a poor cousin of the sitar, symbolized as it was by the flamboyant Ravi Shankar.

"It has taken time but now the sarod has serious listeners all over the world," Khan said. "The sarod too has established a niche in the West." He, with Ayaan and Amaan, have recently performed in cities as diverse as New York, Santa Fe, Nashville and Dayton, as also in European cities like Bucharest.

Despite the success, Khan is unwilling to be complacent "It is my duty to share music with the whole world. So much more remains to be done," he said.


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