Ravi Shankar - Usher Hall, Edinburgh, Mon 22 Aug
A mesmerising show of classical Indian music as part of 2011 EIF
This article is from 2011.
Ravi Shankar crossed over into popular culture with his associations with various 60s musicians, working with and/or influencing the likes of The Beatles, The Kinks and The Byrds. Going on to play at iconic festivals such as Woodstock and The Monterey Pop Festival. He may have distanced himself from the hippie movement in the 70s but his take on classical Indian music left an indelible mark.
The Edinburgh International Festival have scored a real coup with a rare live performance from Shankar, marking his first performance in Edinburgh for over 20 years. At the age of 91 there is a worry that this might be a muted or even embarrassing performance, the crowd hushed as the aged Shankar shuffles on stage, his voice almost inaudible as he introduces the first raga. But when he picks up his sitar and strikes up the first note all fears are allayed. Seated on Indian rugs with six fellow musicians (many of them his students) cross-legged before him they follow his lead, opening with a light prayer that builds into a delicate multilayered piece as sitar, flute and tabla combine. Next is a piece of his own composition, followed by a short traditional piece to commemorate Krishna’s birthday, before a final longer piece clocking in at over half an hour that rises and falls with subtle grace.
There is nothing condescending about the audiences applause and standing ovation, perhaps his playing isn’t as sharp as before but it’s still instantly evocative of another world, deeply hypnotic and sharing much with jazz in its improvisation and deft musicianship. Shankar may be a humble figure but he’s still a master player.