Arab Times

India’s ‘Raga Pianist’ regales Kuwait

A musical braveheart who produced new sound


TBy Chaitali B. Roy Special to the Arab Times

he Indian Business and Profession­al Council (KWT) introduced Kuwait to a new sound at the Embassy of India auditorium yesterday at 6 pm. The show featured keynote speaker Al Tayeb Ahmad Sidiqi Al Dajani who introduced the audience to principles of Islamic Finance. The presentati­on was followed by a recital featuring Utsav Lal, a classical raga and jazz pianist. He was accompanie­d by noted percussion­ist Durjoy Bhowmick.

The Indian Business and Profession­al Council Kuwait formerly known as the Indian Business Council has played a pioneering role in encouragin­g network among Indian business and local government institutio­ns and across multiple sectors by strengthen­ing trade and commercial ties. A premier business and profession­al advocacy organizati­on, the council includes leading members of the Indian business community, senior corporate profession­als, and executives from public sector undertakin­gs in Kuwait. When asked about the change in the name of the organizati­on, Shivy Bhasin, Vice-President of IBPC shared: “The shift in the name is chiefly to include profession­als, who play a critical role in business organizati­ons in Kuwait. Moreover, we want to increase our reach and embrace people who will bring value to the Council.”

On Saturday evening, the IBPC event showcased Utsav Lal, a brilliant young maestro, a musical braveheart who has embraced the piano, a western instrument traditiona­lly considered unsuitable for Indian classical music to produce a new sound that captures the nuances of traditiona­l classical music of his land of birth. In the process, Utsav stepped out of the shadows at a tender age and took his place in the spotlight to reveal some serious virtuosity. Utsav’s music is not restrictiv­e. His distinctiv­e style integrates his training in Western classical music with traditiona­l Indian classical form allowing him to straddle the Eastern and Western idioms easily and creating a sound that is multicultu­ral and universal.

A brilliant performer and composer, Utsav Lal’s journey as a musician began at a young age. Apart from advanced training in Western classical and jazz at the Royal Conservato­ire of Scotland, he also trained in Hindustani classical music in Dhrupad style under his guru Ustad Wasifuddin Dagar. With passion and dedication, Utsav made the piano speak in different voices. Sometimes, his music is soft and playful, at other times, it is strong and assertive creating its own vocabulary bridging limitation­s of language, region or religion. In his impressive thirteen year career, Utsav has been hailed as the ‘Raga Pianist’ who has captured the essence of Hindustani classical on the piano and won internatio­nal acclaim for his performanc­e at several venues and festivals including The Kennedy Centre-Washington DC, The National Concert Hall-Dublin, Southbank Centre-London, Konset Huset-Sweden, Theatre Orangerie-The Netherland­s, NCPA-Mumbai, Konset Huset-Sweden, Nehru Centre-London, Asia Music Society-Hong Kong, Tagore Centre-Berlin, President of India’s house and others. Arab Times caught up with the young master who will hold a workshop for aspiring young musicians on thinking outside the box at the Kuwait Music Academy today.

Arab Times: You play both Indian classical ragas and jazz on the piano. How dissimilar are the two styles of playing?

Utsav: Indian ragas and jazz are both forms of music with a heavy focus on improvisat­ion. When I play ragas on the piano, I’m careful to never compromise on the strict rules and essence of the raga. Jazz is such a huge, allencompa­ssing genre. It varies from the swing tradition all the way to contempora­ry improvisat­ion and draws on material from every single world tradition. I find that experiment­ing with both these genres compliment­s each other in a fantastic way.

AT: When did you start training? Did you start your musical journey with Indian classical?

Utsav: My initial piano training in India started at the age of 7 and was a combinatio­n of learning to play Indian film compositio­ns by ear. I also underwent formal Western classical training at the Delhi School of Music. Most of my formative years training was performanc­e oriented and did not encompass much of sight reading of music. It was after I moved to Dublin and trained under Irish concert pianist Padhraic O’ Cunneagain that suddenly several doors opened up in terms of exposure to Western classical music, composers, competitio­ns, master classes and high

Cultural dance

quality instrument­s. I began advanced training under Padhraic O’Cunneagain at the Dublin Institute of Technology and under his guidance went onto procure the ATCL Diploma with distinctio­n in Solo Piano from Trinity College, London.

Along with classical piano, I wanted to study jazz because it was a form of music that like Indian Classical music was steeped in improvisat­ion. While in Dublin, from 2007, I started taking evening lessons in jazz. I was also awarded a world music scholarshi­p in 2008 in Jazz at Berkley which was a great learning experience. Subsequent­ly, I went onto Royal Conservato­ire of Scotland, Glasgow to complete my Honors Bachelor of Music degree in Jazz Piano as an ABRSM Scholar. I was a recipient of their Internatio­nal scholarshi­p. AT: What attracted you to the piano? Utsav: The tonal quality, the sheer size of the piano, along with the fact that every time you press a note, over 10,000 working parts spring to life. These were some of the things that enthralled me since I was a child and I learnt to play the piano both by ear and formally from the age of 7.The piano offers innumerabl­e possibilit­ies to explore soundscape­s. It is one of the most expressive, versatile instrument­s. In 2010, I was honored to be officially recognized on the global top pianists’ roster as a concert pianist & named “Young Steinway Artist” by the world’s leading piano makers Steinway & Sons. This recognitio­n meant a lot to me and represente­d a milestone victory in my tryst with the piano.

AT: Once, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan Sahab told me in an interview that Hindustani classical and Western classical is diametrica­lly opposed to each other. There is freedom in Indian classical music that Western classical music lacks, yet you tried to bridge the gap by playing these two distinct styles. Do you feel the same, and if yes, why didn’t you specialize in only one form?

Utsav: I wouldn’t say they were diametrica­lly opposite as they are both classical forms of music. Both these genres represent the pinnacle of musical evolution in many ways and the word classical implies the depth, seriousnes­s and complexity of the music. They do have stark contrasts going down to their foundation­s such as improvisat­ion, instrument­ation or written scores etc. However, both of these styles can complement each other beautifull­y as seen in the Ravi Shankar collaborat­ions with Philip Glass or more recently Zakir Hussain, Bela Fleck and Edgar Meyer’s collaborat­ion with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra on the “Melody of Rhythm”.

For me personally, I felt if I was going to play the piano, I should learn how to play it with the proper technique that’s been developed over hundreds of years in the western classical tradition. That training gave me a solid technical grounding and also taught me a lot about the piano as an instrument, its various subtleties and the huge variety of styles that can be played on it. It also exposed me to some great pieces of music from classical composers, which either consciousl­y or subconscio­usly affect my improvisat­ions in Indian music.

AT: You have trained rigorously for many years. How important is the role of a guru in a musician’s life?

Utsav: I am currently training under leading Dhrupad exponent Ustad Wasifuddin Dagar who is teaching me to explore and understand intricacie­s of Indian Classical Music in its complete depth. In addition, from an early age I have been mentored by leading violinist Sharat Srivastava in the instrument­al expression of ragas. Other classical maestros like Pandit Bhimsen Joshi & Ustad Vilayat Khan have also been indirect strong influences in my learning. For piano, my teachers John

 ??  ??
 ??  ?? Utsav Lal, classical raga and jazz pianist
Utsav Lal, classical raga and jazz pianist

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Kuwait