A Historic Collaboration
On Sunday, December 3, 2023, the Usher Hall in Edinburgh hosted a historic musical event: the Symphony Orchestra of India (SOI) performed with the legendary tabla maestro Zakir Hussain and his trio of Niladri Kumar on sitar and Rakesh Chaurasia on flute. The concert was part of the SOI’s first UK tour, supported by the Scottish Indian Arts Forum (SIAF).
The SOI, founded in 2006, is India’s first and only professional symphony orchestra, based at the National Centre for Performing Arts (NCPA) in Mumbai. The orchestra has collaborated with renowned international artists such as Marat Bisengaliev, Maria João Pires, Karl Jenkins, and Pinchas Zukerman. The SOI is led by conductor Alpesh Chauhan, who has worked with orchestras such as the London Philharmonic, the BBC Symphony, and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra.
Zakir Hussain, born in 1951, is widely regarded as one of the greatest musicians in the Indian classical tradition, and a pioneer of cross-cultural fusion. He started playing the tabla at the age of 12, and has since performed with artists such as Ravi Shankar, John McLaughlin, Mickey Hart, Yo-Yo Ma, and Bela Fleck. He has composed music for films, ballets, and orchestras, and has won numerous awards, including the Padma Shri, the Padma Bhushan, and the Grammy.
A Triple Concerto
The highlight of the concert was the world premiere of a triple concerto, composed by Hussain, featuring the tabla, the sitar, and the flute as solo instruments, accompanied by the orchestra. The concerto was commissioned especially for this tour, and showcased the versatility and virtuosity of the Indian classical musicians, as well as the adaptability and sensitivity of the orchestra.
The concerto consisted of four movements, each exploring a different mood and musical style. The first movement was a lively and rhythmic introduction, with the tabla setting the pace and the sitar and flute joining in with melodic phrases. The second movement was a slow and serene interlude, with the flute taking the lead and creating a meditative atmosphere. The third movement was a fast and fiery display of technical skill, with the sitar and the tabla engaging in a playful dialogue, while the orchestra provided a dynamic backdrop. The fourth and final movement was a grand and majestic finale, with all the instruments coming together in a harmonious and exhilarating climax.
The concerto was a remarkable example of musical fusion, blending elements of Indian and Western classical music, as well as jazz, rock, and folk. The soloists improvised on the themes and structures provided by the composer, while the orchestra followed the cues and signals of the conductor. The result was a spontaneous and organic musical conversation, full of surprises and delights.
A Standing Ovation
The audience at the Usher Hall gave the performers a standing ovation, and demanded an encore. The soloists obliged with a short and sweet rendition of a folk tune, accompanied by the orchestra. The concert was a memorable and magical experience for both the performers and the listeners, and a testament to the power and beauty of music as a universal language.
The SOI and Hussain will continue their UK tour, performing at the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester on December 5, and at the Cadogan Hall in London on December 7. The tour is a rare opportunity to witness a musical fusion of East and West, and a celebration of cultural diversity and harmony.