Inspired by a simple request by his holiness the Dalai Lama 14 years ago, the fifth World Festival of Sacred Music (WFSM) seeks to bridge communities while conveying peace and global solidarity through the elemental and sacrosanct mediums of music and dance. Apart from the entertainment qualities of the event, it will be the audience presence that fuels and morphs into a collective will for global improvement.
For 2011, the festival will be a versatile assemblage of more than 800 local and international performers who cross cultural disparities to express and present a bevy of artistry in roughly 30 historic and public locales across Los Angeles.
WFSM is a project of Foundation for World Arts and UCLA Center for Intercultural Performance and will run Oct. 1-16. Four previous festivals took place in 1999, 2002, 2005, and 2008.
One of the many world-renowned artists who has responded to WSFM’s call for action is bansuri virtuoso Hariprasad Chaurasia, a man often credited for the popularization of Indian classical music abroad.
Chaurasia will present an enchanted evening of sacred classical Indian music. Music ignites spirituality and this fused mood “free of everything but the pure, while creating peace and harmony,” says Chaurasia, “a necessity for people worldwide who are suffering mentally and physically.”
Chaurasia will perform solos and select playful ragas particular to the time of the performance. The spell-binding blend of rhythm and pitch from the bansuri and tabla evoke melodic forms called ragas. Each raga evokes a mood often by lengthy improvisation that is passed on to the listener. Indian sages have long recognized the power of sound emanating from music and its resulting spiritual effects. Ancient music schools created ragas to activate specific centers and streams of internal power.
Chaurasia will be accompanied by his senior student, Jay Gandhi, on second bansuri flute and renowned tabla player Subhankar Banerjee. Shyamala Rajender will play the tanpura.
Playing the bansuri arose as a burning spiritual passion within Chaurasia when he was only 14. It is this passion that he urges young music lovers to pursue. “Try to keep the foundation that your teacher provides you. It is one thing when the teacher asks you to perform but when you become a music lover, your approach changes as you want to demonstrate for the teacher that you are the best,” he says. He progressed to hone his breathing and blowing skills that allow him to play fast tempos and incredible ranges. His training is in the Senia gharana, which he draws from while integrating other styles as well.
Beyond his worldwide live performances, which earned him international recognition, Chaurasia is a recipient of multiple awards including the Padma Vibhushan, the second-highest civilian award in India. He has been knighted by the French government, honored by the Royal Dutch family and has performed in many major concerts worldwide. A notable concert was the 1998 Nobel Peace Prize Concert in Oslo where classical Indian music was introduced.
In 1996, he established the Brindavan Gurukul in Mumbai, an academy dedicated to the teaching and promotion of performing arts. He currently heads the world music department at Rotterdam Music Conservatory in the Netherlands. In addition to performing solo, Chaurasia has collaborated with Western musicians such as the late Yehudi Menuhin, Jean Pierre Rampal, John McLaughlin, and many others.
Currently in his 70s, Chaurasia’s energy continues to surge fueled partly by the spiritual callings of his flute. From a 24-hour performance honoring Lord Krishna during the holy festival of Janmashtami to mixed European stops in August, Chaurasia comes to the U.S. to begin an independent, 10 city nationwide tour beginning with the WFSM performance. The tour will continue through October.
Subhankar Banerjee’s tabla and vocal prowess matured from the early age of 5 into a well-earned reputation as master soloist and accompanist to well known celebrities such as the legendary sitarist and composer Ravi Shankar, Amjad Ali Khan, and many more. Banerjee’s global performances have won numerous accolades and awards from the President of India and esteemed filmmaker and writer Satyajit Ray. Banerjee also had the honor of performing with Chaurasia at the Nobel Peace Prize concert in Oslo in 1998 and has performed for Prince Charles of England, the President of Pakistan, Mexico and South Africa as a guest artist.
Jay Gandhi is one of Chaurasia’s devoted students who has excelled as a bansuri player and has performed in India, Europe, the Middle East, and America. Gandhi’s musical pursuits also involve a great love for the music of the African diaspora and jazz. In 2004, he completed an Individual Major in Jazz Performance at Oberlin College/Conservatory of Music (Ohio), studying privately under such jazz luminaries as the saxophonist Gary Bartz and trumpeter Marcus Belgrave.
Shyamala Rajender, an attorney by profession, has been playing the tanpura for the last 20 years and has not only accompanied Chaurasia on stage but is a personal friend who coordinates his U.S. tours. The tanpura provides a firm anchor and harmonic base for the music according to Rajender who prizes the custom made instrument tuned to E scale to play with the master.
The bansuri is a natural woodwind flute made out of bamboo and ranging in 29 sizes. The tabla is famed for being one of the most sophisticated pair of finger drums in North Indian classical music and in the world of percussion. Both musical instruments date back to the Vedic civilization.
Sunday, Oct. 2, 8 p.m. Magnin Auditorium, Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. $30 general, $20 student. Tickets:www.skirball.org, (877) SCC-4TIX, (877) 722-4849. For more details on the festival, go to www.festivalofsacredmusic.org.www.hariprasadchaurasia.com.