Venue: Orpheum Theatre Date: 23 October 2003 8.00pm

Reviewer: John Jane






Conductor: Bramwell Tovey

The much-anticipated Anoushka Shankar concert at the Orpheum last October 24th certainly lived up to its expectations. The shower of accolades for the London-born Ms Shankar has been well documented, most notably, her award of the House of Commons Shield by the British Parliament in 1998. She is the youngest person and the only woman ever to receive this honour.

The concert was given a greater sense of occasion with the attendance of the featured artist’s 83-year old father, the renowned Ravi Shankar who sat in the front row. During the intermission, Shankar graciously made himself accessible to well-wishers.

Following the orchestra’s opening piece, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Le Coq D’or - an ‘unadvertised feature’ - Maestro Tovey welcomed the audience with his trademark ‘pythonesque’ humour.

The orchestra’s performance of Rimsky-Korsakov’s lyrical Sheherezade, featuring guest violinist Stephanie Sant’Ambrogio, took up the balance of the first half of the programme.

Sheherezade is loosely based on the Persian fairy tales of A Thousand and One Arabian Nights. The first movement was an extraordinary tsunami of energy. Principal bassoonist Christopher Millard’s stellar solo in the second movement proved what a prime example of orchestral exhibitionism this work can be. However, it is the familiar third movement with its unconventional woodwind and strings solos that made Sheherezade seductively compelling. If the tempos were slow in the first three movements, the orchestra made up for it in the fiery, vigorous fourth. Kudos to conductor and musicians for bringing out the composer’s well-defined textures.





Ravi Shankar's finest accomplishment may well be his intricately woven composition, Sitar Concerto No.1 which premiered in London with the London Symphony Orchestra. He first gained international fame when he joined Bob Dylan and the Late George Harrison in the Concert for Bangladesh. The 1971 benefit concert at Madison Square Garden that became the prototype for such events as Band Aid, Farm Aid and Live Aid.

Seated in a modified lotus posture on a carpeted platform, her sitar placed directly in front of the torso, with the neck of the instrument angled at about 45 degrees to the floor, Anoushka Shankar remained the centre of the audience’s focus during the entire concerto.

Principal percussionist Vern Griffiths provided exceptional accompaniment on the bongos (in lieu of tabla drums).

Sitar music like the instrument itself is (or at least appears to be) complex. There is nothing like it comparable in classic western musical instruments. As Maestro Tovey advised, don’t analyze or critique it. Just sit back and contemplate on life as you listen to it.

At the end of her performance, Ms Shankar received a standing ovation. Perhaps this was a perception that it was not just a talented musician playing her father’s music, but the dawn of a likely brilliant career.

© 2003, John Jane