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Shruthi Rajasekar’s new piece, premiered by Hertfordshire Refrain, merges Western classical and Carnatic musical traditions


Sarojini Naidu
Sarojini Naidu

Shruthi Rajasekar: Sarojini, Karl Jenkins: The Armed Man, Nirmala Rajasekar, Thanjavur Murugaboopathi, Ana Beard Fernandez, Osama Kiwan, Hertfordshire Refrain, London Orchestra da Digital camera; St Albans Cathedral
Reviewed 22 October 2022 (★★★★)

Hertfordshire Refrain convey an exquisite sense of engagement to their hanging programme of two up to date works, every representing one thing of a fusion between totally different musics and totally different kinds

Shruthi Rajasekar is a younger Indian American composer whose background consists of coaching in each Western classical and South Indian classical music. Her new work, Sarojini, displays these intersections. A fee from Hertfordshire Refrain, Shruthi Rajasekar’s Sarojni was premiered by the refrain with London Orchestra da Digital camera, soloists Nirmala Rajasekar (veena & voice), Thanjavur Murugaboopathi (mridangam), conductor David Temple at St Albans Cathedral on 22 October 2022. The work was paired with Karl Jenkins‘ The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace, with soloists Ana Beard Fernandez (soprano) and Osama Kiwan (muezzin).

Shruthi Rajasekar’s mom, Nirmala Rajasekar, is among the premier Saraswati veena gamers on the earth (and likewise one of many night’s soloists), so Shruthi Rajasekar grew up finding out Carnatic music, however was additionally educated in Western classical. The 2 techniques have some parts in widespread, however the divergences imply that combining the 2 requires a fragile negotiation. 

This yr is the seventy fifth anniversary of Indian Independence, and Sarojini explores this theme via the particular person of the Indian political activist, feminist and poet Sarojini Naidu (1879-1949), a determine of appreciable significance within the first half of the twentieth century, however whose position has been considerably overshadowed. Shruthi Rajasekar’s textual content for Sarojini, merged Sarojini Naidu’s phrases with different texts to take us via main occasions, starting along with her life as an artist, shifting via her highly effective poem in regards to the British Raj’s looting of Indian sources (together with its individuals in the course of the First World Struggle), the position of ladies within the independence motion, independence itself, and a last motion referencing India after independence.

Nirmala Rajasekar’s veena taking part in was used very a lot as a punctuation, giving a way of the duality of the Sarojini Naidu’s world, the great improvisatory veena solos usually supported by rhythmic drones from the orchestra and typically the choir. Solely in the course of the third motion, The Actual Nation-Builders do the 2 come collectively. Nirmala Rajasekar performed and sang a conventional Sanskrit prayer to the Goddess Lakshmi towards the background of the choir singing Sarojini Naidu’s English ode to Lakshmi. The outcomes had been intriguing and imaginative, a quick coming collectively. The following motion had a coming collectively of a distinct type, as included within the music was Pandit Ravi Shankar Jr’s setting of phrases by Allama Muhammed Iqbal, Saare Jahan Se Accha, which the viewers was inspired to affix in (and plenty of did, singing lustily). This was adopted by an enormous climax, the repetitive rhythmic determine which introduced everybody, refrain, orchestra, veena and mridangam, mirrored a selected sort of Carnatic music and drew the work to an ecstatic (and close to orgiastic) climax.

However Shruthi Rajasekar’s writing gave the refrain loads of moments on their very own, giving them their very own challenges. Her writing could be within the Western classical idiom, however from the opening notes of the primary refrain there was a distinct sense to the sound world, the scales that she used, her use of robust unisons over rhythmic orchestral patterns, and an attention-grabbing use of heterophony. Thanjavur Murugaboopathi’s drums performed a major position within the night, each supporting Nirmala Rajasekar and contributing to the general percussion within the work (there was a timpanist plus two Western percussion gamers). 

The refrain gave a supremely dedicated and enthusiastic efficiency, their enjoyment of the work’s challenges palpable and all through they had been nicely supported by the orchestra. 

Shruthi Rajasekar’s use of Carnatic music and the way in which she made it intersect with Western classical, with out both music fairly dropping its personal identification, was a neat metaphor for the story that the piece was telling, the story of India within the twentieth century. It will likely be attention-grabbing to see whether or not different choirs take up the problem of mixing Western classical and South Indian musics, definitely Shruthi Rajasekar’s Sarojini is imaginatively constructed and approachable with out seeming to dumb down, and all through the work I used to be struck by her use of the totally different textures attainable along with her performing forces.

In a bit of canny programming, the choir paired the work with one other large-scale piece that’s barely at a tangent to the tutorial classical custom, Karl Jenkins’ The Armed Man. The work was commissioned by the Royal Armouries to mark the Millennium and was devoted to the victims of the Kosovan battle. It combines texts from the Latin mass with different sources and features a solo motion for Muezzin (although Jenkins doesn’t try to mix this with the Western classical performers, Osama Kiwan sang solo). Jenkins background consists of coaching on the Royal Academy of Music, jazz, movie music and dealing with the jazz-rock-fusion group Gentle Machine. He appears to have approached The Armed Man in a filmic approach, every motion evoking a selected emotion or color. Extremely efficient in the way in which it’s written, and with a variety of memorable tunes. the work is approachable, and Jenkins’ concepts by no means outstay their welcome.

The choir introduced a beautiful vitality and engagement to the efficiency, and it was their contribution which made the night so hanging, giving the piece a sense of neighborhood engagement. There have been high-quality contributions too from soprano Ana Beard Fernandez, singing with poise and fantastic thing about tone.   

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