Audiences took an epic three-month artistic journey through the mountains and valleys of Switzerland and India as the City of London Festival laid claim to the capital’s ancient streets, squares and halls to present 150 events of classical music and dance, cinema, photography and poetry.
Among the impressive line-up was sarod maestro, Amjad Ali Khan, who collaborated with western cellist, Claudio Bohorquez, to present ‘newly devised music and improvisations’. In the first half of the performance, each artist, eyes closed, separately presented the distilled purity of each art form. It created an ambience of calmness and austerity so pure that one felt as if the performers merely ornamented the silence of the beautiful hall with the dignity, depth, subtlety and grandeur of great musical traditions.
But when the eagerly awaited collaboration began after the interval, a lingering disappointment descended over the intimate setting as a typical Indian classical performance gave space to the entirely pre-composed cello composition. It created a series of fixed, simplified ‘improvisations’ performed mechanically and rather nervously by the cellist, with some peripheral ornamentations played on the Sarod. Mistakes ensued as rhythmic patterns fell apart. Amjad Ali Khan, resorting to tapping the time-cycle to ensure that disaster didn’t follow, reminded one of Indian teachers keeping time for their students. Sitar maestro, Pandit Nikhil Banerjee, on being asked what he thought of Ravi Shankar’s collaboration with Yehudi Menuhin said “in Western music he’s a giant, but when he’s playing Indian music he is like a child.” The tragedy was that the West have shown their musical greatness through intricately harmonising an array of sounds into one seamless melodic movement. No doubt there is scope for meaningful work to be done between the West and India to organically create new music, but in my opinion, it has yet to happen.