Is it possible to go to any concert without expectations? Arriving at the Darbar Festival, expectations of a memorable concert were high. These were formed by seeing Arati Ankalikar give a fabulous performance a few years ago in Mumbai (faint traces of it re-surface every now and again in my memory). There were also expectations set by Darbar, which has regularly presented some outstanding concerts over several years.
Sadly, the event did not live up to these high hopes. It was at best a routine concert, which at times appeared a bit disjointed. Beginning with raag Ahir Bhairav, Arati gradually picked up the tempo to long sustained notes that enveloped the beautiful oak-panelled auditorium at the Kings Place. The hand gestures began to flow but then, during a break for a bit of tabla-tuning by Anubrata Chatterjee, Arati looked distinctly bored. Something was not right. The music recommenced but somehow the voice didn’t sparkle, the hand gestures became less effusive and several times for the rest of the performance she touched her ear, an artistic apology perhaps to her Guru, the celebrated Kishori Amonkar, for not getting things quite as they should be.
Raag Jaunpuri followed. But again it failed to elevate myself or the audience who, by now, should have developed a rapport with the artists through spontaneous verbal and physical appreciation. At one point, Arati was directing the tabla player on what to play. Not right. Young Anubrata, son of the illustrious Anindo Chatterjee – brought in at the last minute to replace the tabla-player programmed in the brochure – was looking a little uneasy.
The next two pieces were short and more enjoyable. Mirabai’s famous bhajan Mhare Ghar Aao Ji, and a wonderfully light classical song celebrating the first month of the Sindhi year Cheti Chand, describing nature and a newly-awakened yearning for the beloved. At this stage, Arati became aware of pakhawaj-player, Omkar Dalvi, seated just behind Anubrata. “Oh, you were there,” Arati says in Marati. (I don’t think the audience was not meant to hear this.) As I left the auditorium to the stirrings of raag Bhairavi, my thoughts turned to how important it is for the artists to gel together, or at least rise above minor irritations to present a polished performance. And maybe one should leave one’s expectations outside.
Postscript…Unlike most UK concerts, this concert was a morning performance that allows artists to play raags specific to the time of day. A conversation with Arati later in the day was revealing. It concerned how the level of the sun (or not, as the case may be), the air and nature affect the mood of different raags played during the 24-hour daily cycle. “But,” said Arati, “once you’re in an auditorium it really doesn’t matter what time of day it is outside.”