Passages by Ravi Shankar & Philip Glass
This was the first complete live performance of the work, Passages, composed in 1990 by Shankar/Glass. It was a particularly emotional performance as the lead sitar player was Shankar’s daughter, Anoushka. Shankar led a fairly complicated personal life, but Anoushka, who was born in 1981, was his last child and became an excellent sitar player of star quality in her own right.
Shankar performed his final concert with Anoushka in November 2012 in California, a few weeks before being admitted to hospital there as a result of heart problems. He died a few days later, at the age of 92, having lived an incredible life with performances and co-operations with artists such as the Beatles and Jimmy Hendrix and working with great conductors, such as Zubin Mehta and completing many original music scores, including his work on the 1982 movie, Gandhi.
The premiere of Passages was magical in its inception and its performance, particularly as a result of the brilliant playing of the sitar by Anoushka Shankar. She was supported by a wonderful group of Indian musical instrument players, as well as the orchestra of the Britten Sinfonia under the American Glass specialist conductor, Karen Kamensek.
A special mention to the soprano, Alexa Mason, who’s haunting voice reminded us of her performance for ENO as Dawn in Marnie last year.
Karen Kamensek has collaborated with Philip Glass for many years and conducted the wonderful ENO production of Akhnaten last year. She spent real time re-barring large chunks of the Shankar movements to make the rhythm and phrasing immediately decipherable to Western musicians and to ensure that the different musical lines flowed together. There was much cohesion in these six movements and the combined playing of Western and Indian music was enthralling, although it did not really all come together until the final movement.
However, nothing could substitute for the brilliant and exciting fifth movement, which was a throwback to Philip Glass at his best, with real touches of both Akhnaten and Satyagraha where even the most prominent parts were still reserved for voices even though the music still retained its harmonious repetitive structures. The fusion of these structures to the traditional Hindu classics produced incredible pulsating sounds that touched the very soul.
An outstanding evening.