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FastNotes

  • Shankar premiered his Second Sitar Concerto with Zubin Mehta and the New York Philharmonic in April 1981. The work is subtitled Raga Mala (“A Garland of Ragas”), presenting 29 ragas (the melodic modes of Indian classical music) in four big movements.

  • North Indian or Hindustani ragas are generally associated with particular times of day, and the first movement of Shankar’s Second Sitar Concerto is based on the dawn raga Lalit.

  • There are five different ragas in the second movement, three in the third, and 20 in the finale, before the vibrant concluding Jhala section, each in a different tempo and spirit. There are also places for improvisation, the heart of the Indian tradition.

Composed: 1980
Length: c. 50 minutes
Orchestration: 3 flutes (2nd = piccolo; 3rd = alto flute & piccolo), 2 oboes, 2 clarinets (2nd = bass clarinet), 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 2 trombones, timpani, percussion (anvil, bass drum, bongos, chimes, clave, conga, cymbals, finger cymbals, glockenspiel, marimba, snare drum, suspended cymbals, tambourine, tam-tams, thunder sheet, triangle, vibraphone, whip, wind machine, xylophone), harp, celesta, strings, and solo sitar

First LA Phil performances (West Coast premiere)

Ravi Shankar’s border crossing, genre mashing direction was set early in life. He was taken as a preteen to join his brother Uday’s dance company in Paris, experiencing all the exhilarating artistic tumult of the inter-war years there. In 1935, Uday invited Allaudin Khan to tour Europe with the company, and three years later Ravi Shankar left the company and dancing to apprentice himself to Khan for over seven years of strict traditional tutelage on the sitar.

This combination – the complete mastery of Indian classical music with a free spirit of eclectic international collaboration – was already influential when the London Symphony Orchestra commissioned Shankar’s first concerto for sitar and orchestra in 1970. He had won a 1967 Grammy for his West Meets East collaboration with Yehudi Menuhin, performed at the Monterey Pop Festival and the Woodstock Festival, scored the film Charly, and had begun teaching in Los Angeles, at his Kinanara School of Music, UCLA, and CalArts. The 1971 recording of that concerto, with André Previn conducting the LSO, won Shankar his second Grammy.

A momentous decade later, Shankar premiered his Second Sitar Concerto with Zubin Mehta and the New York Philharmonic, in April 1981. Dedicated to Mehta, the Sitar Concerto No. 2 is subtitled Raga Mala (“A Garland of Ragas”; also the title of Shankar’s 2001 autobiography), presenting 29 ragas in four big movements. “In working with Ravi in New York, knowing that he could not read or write the Western notation, it was my honor to sit next to him when he was composing his concerto for the New York Philharmonic and take dictation from this great master,” Mehta recalled in a eulogy for the late Indian master in 2012. “These are hours I will never forget.” (The concerto was orchestrated by the composer José Luis Greco – the son of Spanish dancer José Greco – a New York native who studied at City College and Columbia University.)

Ragas are the melodic modes of Indian classical music, but mood and affect – defined by emphasized notes, ornaments, and intonation, among other aspects – are as important as the pitch patterns. North Indian or Hindustani ragas are also generally associated with particular times of day, and the first movement of Shankar’s Second Sitar Concerto is based on the dawn raga Lalit. The sun comes up like thunder, however, in music of lively shimmer and pulse. A slow, delicately scored section midway through the movement catches the more serene character of the raga.

There are five different ragas in the second movement, three in the third, and 20 in the finale, before the vibrant concluding Jhala section, each in a different tempo and spirit. There are also places for improvisation, the heart of the Indian tradition, for which ragas provide a framework. “Mr. Shankar is one of the world’s great virtuosos, but for all his venturesomeness he remains a deeply traditional artist on that instrument,” John Rockwell wrote in his New York Times review of the premiere. “But he has also been driven throughout his life to bridge the gaps he perceives between the classical Indian tradition and the music of the West, and his ‘Raga-Mala’ represents his most ambitious ecumenical attempt so far.” – John Henken