Bringing two musical worlds together

Purbayan Chatterjee

Purbayan Chatterjee

It is not fusion in true sense of the word but a classical to classical connect from best of both the worlds. When the sitar is strung to play western classical notes, then the amalgamation exudes only one expression — heavenly ecstasy.

“Usually, western music interspersing with eastern strains has been commonly celebrated by all modern-day musicians and the avid enthusiasts. But then there is also a niche gallery of select audience who loves to lend its ears to the pristine glory of pure, classical compositions. In that context, an Indian classical instrument seamlessly blending with western classical music is unarguably a unique proposition,” says Kolkata-based sitar whiz Purbayan Chatterjee, whose album Western Classical Masterpieces on the Sitar was unveiled on Monday afternoon at the city’s Saturday Club in the presence of sarod prodigy Amaan Ali Khan and Tollywood actress Arpita Chatterjee.
“So long, Indian classical music has worked well in tandem with jazz, rock, folk and pop genres. Using the sitar riffs to produce a symphony in a way therefore adds to that novelty-factor,” says Purbayan, who has earlier incorporated Mozart’s eternal tunes in his popular album, Sitarscape. And in this newly launched title too, the talented sitarist informs to have played the 40th symphony of the world-renowned prolific composer genius. It’s a solo project comprising 10 tracks in all. Besides Mozart, timeless stalwarts like Beethoven, Bach, Brahms, Vivaldi, Strauss, Jeremiah Clarke, Franz Liszt, Georges Bizet, Paul de Senneville and Olivier Toussaint are present on the precious playlist with their everlasting creations.
Produced by EMI Virgin Records, Purbayan says that it was the record company’s idea to come up with such an overture on the euphony of western classical music. “Yeah, they approached me with the concept but I insisted on employing a sitar for the purpose and firmly stood on that ground. I guess, it paid off and the album sounds pretty good now,” he vouches for a quality product with a smile. To generate some soulful music on the album, Purbayan laboured quite hard on the harmonic patterns and chord structures, conducive to western classical tracks. “I have happened to brainstorm and discuss a lot with city-based western classical exponents, instrumental-wizards, gizmo geeks, old record collectors and the listening experts to turn on a flawless piece. It’s been an absolute wonderful session to experiment, evolve and enhance with the richness of music I must say,” he ensures an honest effort on his part. On the surface, the album apparently promises to leave no room for complaints for the staunch adherents to nit-pick his creative input. But then, the performing artiste prefers to keep his fingers crossed for the time being, only hoping some rewarding results to follow.
Sitar as a stringed Indian classical instrument still has its predominance felt in the realm of Indian classical music, but over the years, its usage is steadily breaking barriers and crossing boundaries to mix and mingle with the arena of world music. To the uninitiated, the sitar’s tryst with the western world was first brought to attention in the 1960s by acclaimed pundits and maestros like Pandit Ravi Shankar, Ustad Vilayat Khan et al. Subsequently, the instrument kept paving way for coalescing eastern forms of improvisation with the western along its path of well-defined, versatile journey.
The CD inlay-card contains an impressive club of some great western classical scores played upon the sitar by Purbayan. The assortment captures the creative gems of legendary figures of world music in their rarest creative blend. The incredible western works set into an arrangement of Indian spirit and essence by using the rhythm and melody of tabla, dholak and esraj, thus truly invoke some extraordinary music on the album. The sequence has Mozart’s Variations for Piano, Stanley Myers’ The Deer Hunter, Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, and so on. “The series will hopefully cut across the segment that is relatively unexposed to sitar music,” chips in Purbayan who later entranced an eclectic gathering with a live performance post his album launch. He has been accompanied on the flute by Indrajit Dey has been instrumental in designing and programming the album’s music.
Those who kept track of Purbayan’s hitherto career graph will agree to the fact that he is no stranger to the western classical cauldron. A recipient of the most coveted President of India Award for the Best Instrumentalist of the country barely at the age of 15, Purbayan has always shown a precocious spark in his innate skills and learning abilities when it came to music and its mélange of diverse genres around the global map. Known for brewing the spicy, fragranced tea of traditional Indian classical music with the flavoured coffee of the contemporary world music genres, he alongwith his band String Struck has till date performed a sequence of fusion concerts at some of the world’s greatest music venues and festivals. The sitarist as a matter of fact likes to classify his band under the genre of Indian jazz. He has also conceptualised the groundbreaking project called Shastriya Syndicate — the outfit that had claimed to be the first Indian classical band with a contemporary touch. The ensuing albums such as Lehar and Stringstruck have also been touted as chartbusters. He owes the credit of designing the “Dwo” that is a doppelganger of the Indian sitar. In fact, Purbayan’s music has been internationally appreciated by jazz virtuosos like Chick Corea, Bella Fleck and Pat Metheney. In addition to this, he also has had many opportunities to perform with the Indian tabla maestro Ustad Zakir Hussain.
Moving ahead in his musical journey, Purbayan is ready with an untitled album featuring the sonorous voices of composer-singer Shankar Mahadevan and the very talented classical vocalist Kaushiki Desikan on a semi-classical lineup of mellifluous songs. There are various compositions, laced with different moods and melodies. And both solo and duet numbers find place in the venture. The album will release in a couple of months’ time. Also on the cards is a Dub concert, to be staged on Republic Day.

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