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Anoushka Shankar will perform on both east and west coasts
Acclaimed sitar virtuoso, producer, and composer Anoushka Shankar follows up her critically-acclaimed 2023 GRAMMY performance at the Premiere Ceremony with Arooj Aftab in Los Angeles, with orchestral performances at venerable music halls on the West and East Coasts.
Shankar makes her post-pandemic return to American stages by performing her late father the legendary Ravi Shankar’s Concerto No.3 with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra at the Alex Theatre (Glendale, Calif.) on Saturday, May 20, 2023 and Royce Hall (Los Angeles, Calif.) on Sunday, May 21, 2023. On June 14, Shankar and her collaborator the famed conductor/arranger Jules Buckley and the National Symphony Orchestra perform at The Kennedy Center (Washington, D.C.) for a dazzling North American debut of her 2023 GRAMMY Award-nominated album, Between Us…, featuring arrangements by Buckley.
Shankar spoke to Anuj Chakrapani of India Currents about her upcoming concert tour.
Anuj Chakrapani: Thanks for talking to India Currents ahead of your upcoming concerts. It is a pleasure to have you. You’re making a return to the concert scene after a three-year break due to the pandemic. Tell us how you feel.
Anoushka Shankar: To be clear, this is my return to American stages after a prolonged pandemic-induced break. I’ve probably done a couple dozen shows in Europe where I live, as that was of course easier at first, and just returned to India last winter too. I’m very excited to be returning to American stages as I grew up in California, living there nearly twenty years. I’m very much looking forward to performing in LA again after too much time apart!
Concerto No. 3
AC: The Concerto No. 3 that you are going to perform is a special one. Can you tell us why?
AS: My father wrote 3 Sitar Concertos and one Symphony. Although I play all of them and love them for varied reasons, I have a soft spot for Concerto No. 3 as it’s the first one he wrote for me. Naturally, his previous two were written for himself as a soloist but by the time he was composing the third he was in his eighties. Playing it makes me feel connected as whilst playing each note I’m aware he was thinking of me as he wrote them.
AC: Then in June, you will be debut-performing the Grammy-nominated album “Between Us…”, which has an interesting history on how it became an album. Can you tell us about it?
AS: Alongside my solo touring projects and purely classical Indian music shows, I’ve had the fortune to play my father’s orchestral work for many years. However something always felt missing as I’m a composer too, and although I love stepping into my father’s mind to play his work, if I did it too much I started to feel a little stifled. Working with the great conductor-arranger Jules Buckley to rearrange my work for orchestra bridged that gap and it’s an incredibly joyous feeling to play my own music with an orchestra. It feels amazing to hear and feel my music expand to fit that sonic landscape.
Initially, Jules and I worked together thinking primarily of putting the music on live. It worked so well we did a short run of shows together and luckily we recorded them! They had by then become a fully-fledged and cohesive collection of songs rather than simply a patchwork of previous releases. During the pandemic, when live music was taken away, I found myself listening to the recording of these shows on my laptop and was transported back to the dynamic energy of live performance, collaboration, immediacy, and connection. It felt like we created something greater than the sum of all our parts, between us. And so Between Us…I was born.
AC: So, “Between Us…” is your first live album since “Live at Carnegie Hall” from back in 2001. Tell us how different producing “Between Us” was, compared to that one.
AS: That’s a great question. They were recorded approximately eighteen years apart and so the first thing that feels different is my maturity as an artist. Although I still hear on Between Us… all the ways I would love to continue to grow, if I look back to Live at Carnegie Hall I can really hear how much more immersed in the music I am on the most recent recording. As I recall that was mirrored in the experience too. My earlier days of performing were a lot more tense, fearful of going onstage, and focused on perfectionism. In more recent years it’s generally (usually!) felt more relaxed and fun. Almost like hanging out with friends but in a different way, speaking a different language.
In her name
AC: We cannot go without talking about your soulful single “In Her Name”, a great collaboration with poet Nikita Gill. Please tell us about its significance.
AS: Ah thank you so much! This song means so much to me. It was based on an earlier instrumental piece I released a decade ago in the wake of the tragedy of Jyoti Singh Pandey’s rape and murder. That was called In Jyoti’s Name and was somewhere I tried to put some of my feelings around what had happened to her and happens to so many others.
Last year later, I felt keenly aware of the approaching ten-year anniversary and yet, as before, was continuing to see evermore stories of similar violence globally perpetrated to women’s bodies. I turned to my good friend, the incredible poet Nikita Gill, to help me expand the piece from its instrumental origin into a more explicitly-clear, vocal version of the work. It’s hard to explain in more detail what the piece means to me but I’m honored if people listen to it and may have their own experience with it.
AC: You started performing on the big stage at the age of 13, and have had your greatest teacher and mentor in your father all through. Could you tell us about other great influences in your life?
AS: It’s not an exaggeration to say my mum was an equivalent influence. She taught me my earliest notes, took me to every concert and dance performance she could, and was always my biggest cheerleader, helping me with my music and career. Alongside that, I cite artists from varied fields as huge inspirations- Akram Khan, Nils Frahm, Arundhati Roy, Bjork, and many more.
AC: We know music, like all art forms, has no limits, and there is no end to exploration for an artist. Could you tell us what are some aspects you are looking to explore in the future, things you are deeply passionate about and have not attempted yet (or done, but only rarely)?
AS: At present, I’m working on a series of mini-releases that will start to come out this October during my more expanded North American tour. Rather than one full-blown album, I’m releasing the parts, or chapters, a few months at a time and trying to approach them in a very fluid and not overly-performative way. Just capturing moments to then share with listeners. Beyond that, I’m hoping to go more deeply into composing for other mediums such as film, dance, and theatre.