Partha Chatterjee’s soulful and soothing sitar playing has earned recognition from much of the world. To the modest Chatterjee, however, praise is relative. “Listeners have their own interpretations of my music. I am far more judgmental. A listener’s first experience and their 100th experience are two totally different experiences. As you continue the journey of listening, your taste is soon cultivated.”
From a young age, Chatterjee was exposed to classical music within the household. His mother, Rama Chatterjee, a singer, made regular appearances on the radio and TV circuits starting in the 1950s, and his father, Sri Prabir Kumar Chatterjee, was an amateur sitar player. Both would be influential in his career.
“I used to accompany my mother on the tabla when she would practice her singing,” says Chatterjee. “Later on, my father advised me to play classical music as he felt it would challenge me for the rest of my life.”
After the initial sitar lessons taught by his father, Chatterjee held a musical apprenticeship under world-renowned sitar player Pandit Nikhil Banerjee. “Pandit Banerjee was a man of few words, but when he spoke they were words of wisdom,” Chatterjee remembers.
“‘Never stop your riyaz and practice with as much sincerity as you can,’ he would say.”
Banerjee’s vocally based style (rather than instrument based) complemented Chatterjee’s early sessions with his mother. Chatterjee became his guru’s assistant for 12 years and developed a unique and deeply spiritual connection to him, and developed a style of playing very reminiscent of his teacher’s. After the death of Banerjee, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, founder of the Ali Akbar Khan College, arranged for Chatterjee to come to the U.S. every summer to study with him and teach at the college.
Chatterjee played a key role in promoting classical music when he was appointed to the Indian Council for Cultural Relations by the Indian government. Chatterjee is also prominently well known for his infamous improvisation skills at his concerts and says that in a one-hour show, “only three or four minutes of the fixed composition are actually played.”
In turn, he wishes raga lovers all around the world are able to indulge in such an opportunity to gain appreciation and respect for the historical music. “What you experience at an Indian classical music concert cannot be compared to a rock or pop concert,” he says. “Classical music makes you ask logical questions and helps to tune your mind. It is so vital and at the root of our culture. It is important for every musician, music lover and patron of Indian music to believe that it is their individual obligation to do their bit and help encourage classical music.”
His most recent offering is an upcoming concert in celebration of spring. Abhijeet Banerjee will accompany Chatterjee on tabla in their show dubbed “Colorful Spring Morning Sitar Concert.” To sum up his forthcoming concerto, a simple Chatterjee avowed, “Audiences can expect energetic and inspiration music.”
Sunday, April 5, 10:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Simi Valley Senior Citizen Center, 3900 Avenida Simi. $10. Lunch available for purchase. (818) 259-6667, (818) 917-3715, (818) 222-6359. firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com.