Matthew Barley/Cellist

Music exemplifies nature’s harmony – it balances man and heaven.

Ancient Chinese tract

A Love Affair Continues…

Yes, I really do love India! The colours, the food, the history, the smiles, the languages, the religions, the light and the darkness, and, of course, the music. My first trip there was in the early ‘90s when a 5-week tour with the British Council and a small chamber group exploded into my young consciousness. I came back with a huge haul of cassettes to listen to, and that was when the love affair began. I have worked with many Indian musicians since, the most rewarding and exciting certainly being a collaboration that began with sarod-master Ustad Amjad Ali Khan in 2000 in the Royal Festival Hall. This continued with many concerts in Europe, Australia, New Zealand and India, often including his sons, Amaan Ali Khan and Ayaan Ali Khan.

In September I was back in the Royal Festival Hall for the latest chapter of this musical journey for a performance in the Darbar Festival, with 4 musicians from the Philharmonia Orchestra and Niladri Kumar (sitar), Rakesh Chaurasia (bansuri – wooden flute), Jayanthi Kumaresh (saraswati veena) and Ghatam Karthick (ghatam – the clay pot): 4 of the most exceptionally talented of the younger generation of Indian classical musicians, making a name for themselves worldwide.

In 2015, when this project began to brew, I started thinking about the way to make a meaningful meeting between the two greatest classical traditions in the world – those of Europe and India – and thought that the creation, as well as the performance of the music had to be shared between east and west. Often it is the case that Indian musicians have provided musical material, and western musicians have arranged it for orchestra or other ensemble and I have often been disappointed with the results. So I called old friend and running-mate Fraser Trainer, with whom I have done a huge number of creative projects around the world and we began to collect ideas and ingredients.

The recipe we hit upon began with a visit to India (see previous blog) with the Philharmonia musicians, meeting the instrumentalists we were to eventually work with, and playing together, sometimes improvising, sometimes learning their melodies and rhythms, and sometimes sharing some of our music. We made really good connections there, and Fraser started to collect material for our final piece. Over the next year or so, there was a lot of communication between us all by email, skype and file sharing; Fraser and I bashed out a structure for the piece, and slowly a kind of skeleton for the piece emerged. I would say that we started with about 15’ of music already composed, and then during a 5-day rehearsal period leading to the concert we added lots of musical flesh, and ended with a piece of nearly an hour. That final week had been very intense, but full of a wonderful sense of co-creation, and lots of laughter and discovery. The concert itself was one of the most excting I have taken part in – in many ways it was the fruit of 20 years of searching and thinking and collaborating and I was extremely proud of the result. Two reviews here and here sum it up well.

Here’s hoping there are many more chapters to come.

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