Monday, 21 July 2014

ground / terre : In Concert with Xenia Pestova

This past February 15, Xenia Pestova and I presented the inaugural concert of our new duo at the Chapelle Historique du Bon Pasteur, as part of the Innovations in Concert series. The concert, titled ground / terre combined practices of North Indian classical music and new music. Our goal was to create an intimate, embodied experience, deeply influenced by the warmth and intimacy of Indian music. The performance included commissioned work, improvisations, and traditional music.

Innovations in Concert recorded this short promo video, where we discussed the concepts behind the event.


The idea for the duo began when we collaborated for the recording of Nicole Lizée's Metal Jacket, for tabla and harmonium, for my album, Cycles. Xenia has done a lot of work with toy piano, and I thought that since both the harmonium and toy piano are played seated on the ground, that, in additional to their complementary sonic palettes, they would work really well with tabla.


The programme included the world premieres of The Migration of Their Materials, for toy piano and tabla, by Tina Pearson and Something to Say, by Tawnie Olson. Migration combines composed and improvised aspects, and has us focus on our breathing to set the pacing. I play tabla, with some extended techniques, while Xenia plays toy piano, in addition to her voice and the use of combs to imitate bird sounds. Something to Say is a provocative piece for tabla and fixed media. In it, the tabla plays English text, much like how the tabla plays Sanskrit and Hindi in traditional bol paran compositions. Here, the bols are in English, and I try as best as possible to have the tabla 'speak' the words. (It's the words themselves that are provocative...)

We also performed the piece that started it all, Nicole Lizee's Metal Jacket, for harmonium and tabla (one baya and 4 dahinas!); a duo improvisation, which we named terre, making use of all our instruments; and I played a traditional tabla solo in Teentaal, accompanied by Xenia on harmonium. Xenia also played some solos to round out the programme: Three Liturgies by Carlos D. Perales, Gothic, by Ed Bennett, Sonata in D minor K10, by Domenico Scarlatti, and Étude d’après Scarlatti, by Patricia Alessandrini.

Before the concert, I took some shots of our beautiful setup, while Xenia was practicing:




And here are some concert photos by Nick Hyatt of Innovations in Concert:




Performing Nicole Lizée's Metal Jacket
With composer Tawnie Olson
This concert was just the first of many to come. There will certainly be more tabla + harmonium + toy piano coming your way!


Friday, 18 July 2014

Mini Connecticut Tour

A couple of weeks after returning from Bangor, I headed out on a small tour of Connecticut, centred around New Haven. Many thanks to composer Tawnie Olson, without whom this tour would not have been possible.

The first stop was the Educational Center for the Arts, in New Haven, where I presented a workshop on North Indian rhythm, followed by a lecture/recital on tabla in new music. I spoke about some of the existing repertoire and issues of notation, and performed a few pieces, including the US premiere of Tawnie Olson's provocative new piece, Something to Say, for tabla and fixed media.




The next day, we were off to The Hartt School, at the University of Hartford, where I presented a tabla masterclass for the percussion students, hosted by Prof. Benjamin Toth.



The tour wrapped up with a lecture at Yale, organized by Reena Esmail and the Yale Raga Society.


Thank you to Caroline Tabah for the photos!

Short Tabla Residency in Bangor, Wales

This past March, I was invited to perform a tabla recital in Pontio's Music@Bangor series, in Bangor, Wales, UK. I was in residence at Bangor University for a few days, where I rehearsed with local musicians Andrew Woolley and Josephine Wilkin in preparation for the recital. I also gave tabla workshops at the Pontio shop, at Bangor University, and at Ysgol Friars school.

I have to say that Bangor is a beautiful city (feels more like a town), with amazing mountain and coastal views. Everyone was so friendly and welcoming, and my time there just flew by.

My first activity was an Indian rhythm workshop at the Bangor University School of Music. My goal here was to rhythmically challenge the students, and to provide them with some strategies and solutions for approaching complex rhythm. All using concepts from tabla, of course.



I also gave a 'Taste of Tabla' demonstration at the Pontio shop. The shop is Pontio's publicly accessible office space, on Bangor's high street. The shop will often host small, intimate events, as a way of publicizing upcoming concerts, and as a way for performers and audience to interact. It's a great idea, that more arts organizations should imitate.



For the tabla recital, I performed a number of works for tabla by Canadian and American composers. As I typically do, I opened the recital with a traditional tabla solo in Teentaal, as a way of showing the tabla in its traditional setting, and showing the depth and beauty of the repertoire. Something different this time around was the accompaniment, since no harmonium was available locally, I was accompanied by Andrew Woolley on an old electric organ! In the context of this concert of new music, it worked quite well. I then followed with Bruno Paquet's Les arbres célestes, for tabla and fixed media, inspired by Quebec's ice storm of 1998, and then Payton MacDonald's Alap, for solo tabla.


The second half began with Paul Frehner's Ke-Te for solo tabla, followed by the UK premieres of my composition, Bol, which is based on traditional bol paran compositions, and Tawnie Olson's provocative new piece, Something to Say, for tabla and fixed media. The concert concluded with Jim Hiscott's Shadow Play, for which I was joined by talented flautist, Josephine Wilkin.


On my last day, I gave a second 'Taste of Tabla' workshop, for a small group of very enthusiastic music students at Ysgol Friars high school. They had an excellent sense of time, and clapped taal quite expertly!


Many thanks to Xenia Pestova and Pontio for having invited me to Bangor. I hope to return soon!

Also, special thanks to the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec for its financial support.

Thank you to Caroline Tabah for the photos! For additional photos, please visit the Facebook album.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Fourth Annual Summer Tabla Workshop

This year's intensive summer tabla workshop took place from June 23 through to June 29 at the Schulich School of Music of McGill University. There were students who came from as far away as Ottawa, New York, Michigan, and Massachusetts. A big thank you to this year's wonderful participants, who made it such an enjoyable week!


As always, there were group classes, daily group practice sessions, listening/video sessions, and we ended with a touching Guru Puja. A few of the students got together to make malas (flower garlands), and all brought fruits and sweets for the puja. We talked about the history of the Benares gharana as I introduced the participants to the legendary artists that make up Guruji's family tree. It was really nice having everyone pay homage to Guruji and his family, and I think that everyone really enjoyed the cultural experience. It's so important to honour our teachers, and the rich history of the gharana.










The week just flew by; I can't believe it's over already. Already thinking about next year, which will be the fifth edition!

Thanks to Caroline for the photos! For more photos, please visit the Facebook album.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

CD Launch of Deepchandi bleu, Ragleela's New Album

In the making for over a year, Ragleela's new CD, Deepchandi bleu, is finally ready for release! While the in-store and online release will actually take place some time in January, the band played a couple of pre-release concerts to celebrate the album's arrival. The first took place on November 27 in Val David, and the second was at the Sala Rossa in Montreal, on December 11. At both occasions, we performed all the tunes of the CD to a packed house. We couldn't have hoped for a better turnout!


For the Val David show, we played as a quartet with Uwe Neumann on sitar, Jean-Marc Hébert on guitar, Guillaume Bourque on clarinet, and with myself on tabla. At the Sala Rossa, we were joined by Cedric Dind-Lavoie on bass. Here are some photos:









Really looking forward to the online and in-store release. Soon! In the meantime, there are some short samples here: https://soundcloud.com/sitaruwe and there are some more photos posted on Facebook, here.

A week after the Montreal launch, we also played a concert in the Parc des Compagnons Saint-Laurent, on the Montreal Plateau. It was quite a bizarre experience, playing in this heated cabin, with the audience freezing outside, huddled around a fire (which was quite far from the stage). Since we were separated from the audience by these plexiglass windows, we couldn't hear the audience's applause. The feeling was similar to playing in a recording studio; we could hear each other just fine, but no connection with the audience, unfortunately, except for through our microphones. Strange, but fun nonetheless!







Thanks to Caroline Tabah for the photos!

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Tabla at the Percussive Arts Society International Convention 2013

From November 12-17, I was in Indianapolis for the Percussive Arts Society International Convention. And what a great time it was! I arrived in Indy on the Tuesday afternoon, and met percussionist Neeraj Mehta at the airport. We were soon picked up by Tony DiSanza, who had driven in from Wisconsin, and off we were to Butler University to meet up with Jonathan Ovalle and Dan Piccolo to begin rehearsals for Saturday's clinic/performance. We rehearsed throughout the week, and played a run-through for the students at Butler before the official premieres at PASIC.

The Saturday concert, Neeraj's brainchild, was a trio of concertos for world percussion instruments and percussion ensemble. The first piece on the program was Tony DiSanza's Time's Arc: 2nd Concerto for Darabukka, with Tony as the soloist, accompanied by Neeraj, Dan, and Jonathan on percussion. The piece opens with a duo alap on slide whistle, which is quite something to behold. The piece showcases the darabukka in a variety of settings, and blends music of the middle East with flavours of samba! Tony had quite a collection of darabukkas on stage, and brought out many subtle nuances of tone and timbre.

Tony in rehearsal with Dan Piccolo, Jonathan Ovalle, and Neeraj Mehta.
Next was the premiere of Payton MacDonald's 4th Concerto for Tabla and Percussion Quartet. I have a long history of performing Payton's music, and am so happy that he wrote this new concerto especially for this occasion (the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Concertos are all available on our CD, Works for Tabla). Many thanks to Neeraj, Tony, Jonathan, and Dan for their excellent accompaniment on marimba, vibraphone, and multi-perc setup. I especially enjoyed the interaction with Dan (who also has training on tabla), doubling the tukras on bongos and tom-toms. Throughout the opening bant improvisation, I had some great exchanges with Tony, who was holding down the fort so to speak, playing eighth notes, over which I improvise in 3:2 and 7:4 before finally arriving at the dugun (double speed) of the bant (somewhat unusual that in this concerto, Payton decided to omit the thah, or single-speed exposition of the bant). Lots of tension there! A highlight for me was Payton's pre-recorded intro (Payton could not attend, as he is in India studying dhrupad with the Gundecha brothers), which made me smile and also provided me with a C tanpura to tune to while he introduced the piece. :)
Lots of baya!
Photo credit: Ken Porter, PASIC 2013
Always smiling! :)
Photo credit: Ken Porter, PASIC 2013
UPDATE: Here's a video clip of the performance!



The concert concluded with Neeraj playing solo conga on Jonathan Ovalle's Three Movements for Conga Soloist and Percussion Trio. Neeraj really rocked the congas, in what was a very virtuosic and energetic performance. The piece references a number of Latin music traditions, and brings them together in a percussion ensemble context. It's a very exciting piece, and a wonderful way to end the concert.

Neeraj Mehta rocking the congas! With Dan Piccolo, Jonathan Ovalle, and Tony DiSanza.
Photo credit: Caroline Tabah
Later that afternoon, another idea of Neeraj's came to fruition: the world percussion panel discussion, with the topic of Practice to Performance: Taking World Percussion Traditions from the Field to the Ensemble Concert. Moderated by Neeraj, the panel was made up of Russell Hartenberger, B Michael Williams, Michael Spiro, all legends in the world of percussion... and me! It was truly an honour to have been invited to participate. Each panelist represented various world music traditions, and I was involved because of my experience with North Indian classical music and the McGill Tabla Ensemble. Numerous relevant and throught-provoking subjects were brought up. The common thread revolved around how we can present world music cultures authentically, and with respect for the source cultures, without compromising the integrity of the music, or the cultural context in which it is found. It was unanimously felt that cultural education is as vital as musical education, and that one should not happen without the other. The session was extremely well attended, which is rare for panel discussions; especially for ones taking place at 4pm on the last day of the convention! 

Neeraj Mehta, Russell Hartenberger, B Michael Williams, Shawn Mativetsky, Michael Spiro
Photo credit: Brian Diehl, PASIC 2013
Neeraj Mehta, Russell Hartenberger, B Michael Williams, Shawn Mativetsky, Michael Spiro
Photo credit: Brian Diehl, PASIC 2013
Many thanks to Neeraj Mehta for these two great ideas, making them a reality, and for having involved me in both of them!

During PASIC, I also had a chance to meet David Yovino for the first time. David is the inventor of the TransTabla, which is a new tuning system for tabla. I have one, and use it quite a bit with Ragleela. It's especially handy in the wintertime (which is soon upon us), when I need to detune my tabla before going outside, and then quickly retune again once inside. David actually redesigned the mechanism somewhat since the early version that I had purchased, and offered to upgrade mine. The new version is even easier to turn, and it's a real pleasure to use. Thanks, David! It was also a great chance to see and try out some of David's other innovations, such as his new tuning hammer and plexiglass screen for playing tabla in high-volume situations.
Chatting with David Yovino.
Photo credit: Caroline Tabah
A great week, full of wonderful interactions and enriching musical experiences. Until the next one!

Photo credit: Caroline Tabah
If you'd like to see more photos, please check out my Facebook album.