- The Washington Times - Monday, April 27, 2009

Already a highly respected musician in his own country, Ravi Shankar first burst into European and American popular consciousness in the late 1960s when the Beatles’ lead guitarist, George Harrison, decided to broaden his own musical horizons by becoming the Indian sitar master’s devoted pupil. The initial result of their collaboration was Mr. Harrison’s “Within You, Without You,” a sitar-based, genre-bending tune on the Beatle’s storied “Sgt. Pepper’s” record album.

Mr. Shankar swiftly became perhaps the earliest example of a “world music” superstar. Still performing classical Indian music, he remains a popular figure on the contemporary concert scene, even as he nears his 90th year.

Washington audiences had an all-too-brief opportunity to witness Mr. Shankar’s art Saturday at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall. He appeared there in concert with his talented younger daughter, sitar player and composer Anoushka Shankar, under the auspices of the Washington Performing Arts Society.

By the way, Mr. Shankar’s “other” daughter? She’s the popular Grammy-winning American chanteuse Norah Jones, Anoushka Shankar’s older half-sister. That’s a long and sometimes painful story the family declines to talk much about. But happily, Miss Jones and Miss Shankar have become good friends and occasional collaborators.

In the first half of Saturday’s program, Miss Shankar performed a pair of ragas, accompanied by Ravichandra Kulur on a transverse bamboo flute, Tanmoy Bose on tabla (Indian drums) and supported by a pair of young musicians on treble and bass tanpura (string drone instruments). Ragas are classical Indian forms based on moods, emotions and times of day.

Miss Shankar’s initial raga, depicting early evening, was unfortunately marred by persistent problems with feedback in the amplification system that forced the musicians eventually to stop, remedy the problem and reboot. The irritating feedback issue attempted a comeback throughout the evening, but was generally under control at least in the second half of the program.

Despite this vexation, Miss Shankar and the others maintained their composure and good humor, and the audience was rewarded with a phenomenal display of virtuosity. Miss Shankar’s playing was technically crisp and highly creative within the tradition, proving she’s already a worthy heir to her father’s legend.

The legend himself joined the ensemble in the program’s second half to perform an additional set of ragas. His daughter at times accompanied him and at other times had musical “conversations” with her, a kind of call-and-response routine not unknown in jazz.

Remarkably spry and loose, Mr. Shankar’s technique differs from his daughter’s in that he bends many of his notes far more freely. This made the conversational moments in both ragas quite interesting and musically diverse in what proved to be, feedback issues excepted, an exhilarating and refreshing afternoon of Indian classical music.

A special hat tip to Mr. Bose. His exceptional tabla playing added real heft and depth to the already fine performances of the Shankars.

★★★½

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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