From Raj to the Republic, Royal Festival Hall, London

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The jewel in the crown of the South Bank Centre’s weekend of Indian music was this concert celebrating the 60th anniversary of the country’s independence. An epic seven hours long, it embraced the traditions of north and south and revealed complex and compelling music.

The first part was something of a showcase for 16-year-old Ambi Subramaniam, the fiddle-playing son of Dr L. Subramaniam, who joined him on stage, anticipating the later father-and-offspring act of Ravi and Anoushka Shankar that spectacularly closed the evening.

Ambi, slender in his orange smock and with an expression of Buddha-like serenity on his face, seemed a modest solo performer and remained so at his father’s side – a musician who has been called the Paganini of Indian music. The two had complementary tones, the father’s a little harsher, which bonded with a set of
percussion solos to prompt a
standing ovation.

Singer Kishori Amonkar’s set preceded a stunning performance from Anoushka Shankar. Clearly enjoying her work, she deftly controlled the sitar, the instrument made famous to western audiences by her father. “I know you’re all in a hurry to hear my father – so this is a short one,” she joked before playing a piece called “Voice of the Moon” that shone with tight rhythm between her tabla player and her perfectly executed melodic lines.

Ravi Shankar took the stage to a standing ovation without even playing a note. The maestro, who has been credited with introducing international music to the west when he played with the violinist Yehudi Menuhin in 1958, and who entered the public imagination with his collaborations with the Beatles, sat centre stage with his daughter, “my life”, at his feet. Although appearing frail, the 87-year-old seemed to gain in energy as he played, as if drawing power from his sitar.

He introduced the ragas with explanation of their rhythm structure and provenance, informing us of their folk and classical influences. And in the performance, he demonstrated the meaning of the word “raga”: “That which colours the mind”. In perfect time with his daughter, his face rapt in concentration, he transported the audience with his sound. 

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