Mirror of Enlightenment: Exotic new music and dance from India
Don’t miss this one-night-only concert bringing together the classical and contemporary music and dance of India!
“…Param Vir’s Raga Fields proved compelling and fascinating, in effect a concerto for sarod (it looks like an electric guitar, but sounds like nirvana — and I don’t mean the rock band) and chamber ensemble.”
~ Birmingham Post
After a spectacular World Premiere on October 4 in Birmingham, U.K., Param Vir’s Raga Fields will have its U.S. Premiere at the Harris Theater. This not-to-miss program includes:
Thank you for joining us on our adventure, “Mirror of Enlightenment”, exploring the intersection of Indian & Western Classical Music with Modern, Jazz, and Experimental musical forms.
For the past 2 years as part of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s “International Connections Grant” we’ve delved the depths of both traditions and ridden the dramatic waves of discovery to create fascinating ways in which they resonate. In 2013 we created a group of Core Development Artists (Alison Attar, harp; Andy Baker, trombone; Janice Misurell-Mitchell, flute; Kalyan Pathak, tabla/percussion; and Collins Trier, bass) to discover where the inspiring sounds, rhythms, textures, harmonies, forms and structures of Indian & Western Classical Music converge to create the next portal to the future of these great art forms.
Param Vir challenged us with the vision: Imagine music in the year 3014. The work we hear is inspiring, but the reference point is elusive; there’s something about it that feels like Classical Indian music, but it has been transformed by generations and centuries of artistic evolution.
Through dozens of workshops, rehearsals, concerts and jam sessions—both in Chicago and Birmingham, U.K.—these artists took this vision and ran with it, under the guidance of composer Param Vir, sarod soloist Soumik Datta, and artistic director Stephen Burns developing concepts, relationships, content and structures from which the composer drew inspiration to create the final work—“Raga Fields.” Composer/flutist Janice Misurell-Mitchell brought keen compositional insights and improvisational skills to the process from the Western musical perspective. Kalyan Pathak’s experience and leadership in both Eastern and Western traditions was key in bridging the cultural divide and leading improvisations from the tabla. Ironically, one of the main concepts to emerge from this developmental work was the transfer of this characteristic role in Indian Music to that of the chamber orchestra-as tabla in the final work. In Rageshri and Jazz Mata we are able to clearly appreciate Mr. Pathak’s contributions to this entire process.
As we take this journey from the ancient to the contemporary it is essential to suspend our natural tendency of expectation and appreciate the newness of the ancient, as well as the rich colors and textures of the newly created. The arc of this program starts with a dramatization of the Buddha’s realization as celebrated by the forest dwellers of Bodh Gaya. Throughout the second half traditional Indian melodic and rhythmic forms (ragas and talas) are the source of inspiration for improvisation, variation, extrapolation, and composition culminating in “Raga Fields” which utilizes all of these devices.
“Mara”, by Pranita Jain, recounts the story of Prince Siddhartha’s search for liberation from worldly desires, suffering, and ignorance resulting in his realization of enlightenment as the Buddha. Upon leaving his kingdom the prince enters a verdant forest full of deer, birds, and other animals. The forest creatures offer a dance of welcome. Seeing his pensive mood and compassionate tears flowing from his eyes a curious creature inquires “why are you so sad?” Siddhartha teaches them the truth of the Three Sorrows—Desire, Disease and Death—then enters into a meditative state. The demon Mara, accompanied by his 2 daughters, Passion and Aggression, arrives to challenge him and break his meditative trance. First, Passion tries to seduce him, but to no avail. Then, Aggression attacks him with arrows, which turn into snakes. When the arrows/snakes hit their target, they burst into flowers. The forest creatures, realizing he has attained enlightenment, fall at the Buddha’s feet and dance in celebration. Komal Shah has choreographed the “Sorrows” in “Mara”.
“Rageshri” is a glimpse into the creative process that created a synthesis of musical languages, which gave birth to “Raga Fields” during our work with the Core Development Artists. Though the scales, rules and forms are predetermined the realization of these elements are left up to the creativity of the performers in real time. Gesture, motif, elaboration and resolution are shaped into a musical gem comprised of counterpoint, call and response, and mutually derived material.
The Jazz Mata portion of this program draws inspiration from the following poem:
‘Himmat’ Translation By Kalyan Pathak and Bharat Pathak
What a challenge it is to have courage (Himmat) in the face of every crisis and difficulty, and yet, I muster up all that I have at each and every moment of such a challenge
O, universal giver, please grant me a big heart full of hope that at each instance I may not trouble you for more courage.
From the Gujarati folk-style melody and the rhythm of the ‘Himmat’ composition, ‘Jazz Mata’ segues to explore group improvisation in ‘Mingus In Miyanki Blues’ where the North Indian mode of Todi is elaborated with jazz and blues sonorities. It is important for ‘Jazz Mata’ to blend composed material and improvised dialogue. The group collective improvisation evokes the spirit of great jazz composer Charles Mingus’ jazz workshops. In this concept each musician is a soloist, a leader, and a composer with each rendition of the composition expected to sound as different music, where forms and norms are less important than the experience itself.
Mingus believed in fusing tradition with unique and unexplored realms of jazz and his music drew from gospel, hard bop, soul and the elements of Third Stream music. The legendary and prolific 16th century musical composer Miyan Tansen codified the Hindusatni classical Todi scale into a full blown Raga and since then his name is associated with the Raga Todi.
Today, ‘Jazz Mata’ musicians ask Mingus and Miyan Tansen to give them a “a courageous heart that can deal with all struggles, and not keep asking for help”, compositionally speaking. ~ Kalyan Pathak
Lalit for flute and tabla is constructed like a North Indian classical raga performance – a meditative alap – followed by two Gats (fixed compositions) where the tabla joins the flute. The pitches of lalit are drawn from Rag Lalit with a tonic E. The pitches are E, F, G#, A, Bb, C, D#, E. The work aims at capturing the essence of an improvised raga performance but the flute part is entirely notated. Lalit is a tribute to great Indian Bansri master Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasria whose many powerful performances of Lalit were very much in my mind. The piece is dedicated to cellist, Jan Müller-Szeraws who has been a guiding spirit in this project. ~ Shirish Korde
Three Spaces for Sarod and Ensemble
Raga Fields interlocks contemporary Western music with classical Indian musical tradition, forging a sound world capable of projecting, with intensity, the power and energy of two very different musical traditions. The diverse sides of the mix must stretch their comfort zones to reach to the ‘otherness’ of their counterpart, and to both reflect and confront each other in impassioned and sometimes jagged exchanges. Within the ensemble; modal, tonal and atonal harmonic fields embed and merge into fleeting Raga-like allusions, all encased in contemporary counterpoint and orchestration. The three spaces of the work offer the sarod soloist the opportunity to articulate a unique pathway in every live performance, with his music moving in a seamless stream from notated passages to improvisatory areas of space inhabited by traditional Ragas.
The work is a mirror to the contemporary world – where monolithic cultures have given way to a melting pot of possibilities drawn from everything and everywhere. In this sometimes distorting mirror of ever-present otherness, we are challenged to view one another in new light, thereby discovering our common ground and embracing our differences.
I would like to express my appreciation to Soumik Datta for his invaluable guidance over many months in writing idiomatically for sarod, and for the choice of Ragas used in the composition. With the challenges such a work inevitably presents, his insight and artistry were essential to the project.
Raga Fields is dedicated to my longtime friend and mentor, the composer Randolph Coleman, with immense esteem and affection. ~Param Vir
Harris Theater for Music and Dance 205 E. Randolph St., Chicago IL, 60601