|As usual in India, Aneesh Pradhan began learning music at an early age. His instrument, the tabla, is the drum most commonly used in classical North Indian or Hindustani music. Normally two are played at the same time, the smaller one (dayan) being of wood, and the bigger one (bayan) of copper or brass. Their origins lie in Arabian music which, especially during the mogul period, had a great influence on North Indian music. Over centuries the technique of playing has become more complex and differentiated. The smaller drum is played with the ring, middle and forefingers of the right hand and the bigger one with plucking-movements of the forefinger and middle finger of the left hand. The pitch can be varied by pressing the ball of the hand on the goatskin membrane.
Aneesh Pradhan's talent was recognised and furthered by Pandit Nikhil Ghosh, one of the great tabla players of the 20th century, and he is now said to be outstanding as both a soloist and a sensitive accompanist. His taste for experimentation brings him to examine and cross the borders of tradition, as in his vocal collage-composition 'Samagam-Nainan Laagi', in which he tries to blend notions from modern western music with Indian ragas. He has also taken part in many cross-cultural experiments, like with the Asian Fantasy Orchestra in Japan in 1998 and 2000.
Concert tours have taken him round the world to Europe, the USA, Japan, South Africa and south-east Asia. He has played at the Melbourne Festival and at the World of Music Festival in Brisbane, has taught at the University of New England in Australia and gained a doctorate in musicology at the University of Mumbai with a treatise about the role of singers of classical Indian music in Bombay in the late 19th century. In 1999 he received the coveted Aditya Birla Kalakiran Award, and the national Indian radio and television network has put him into the highest category.
'I am firmly convinced that riyaaz or practice, continuous study and introspection are the vital ingredients for musical creativity. I have always tried - and shall carry on trying - to go beyond the limits of the tabla and rhythm, and to move in the field of ensemble-music and composition. To this path I am profoundly committed.'
|Aneesh Pradhan about the cooperation with the Ensemble Modern:
A sharing of musical ideas, a window into each others worldview, getting a sense of musicianship on both sides and above all a spirit of camaraderie with a view to enjoying the process that has only just begun and will probably take some time to reach fruition, would perhaps be the highlights of the cooperation between the Indian musicians and the Ensemble Modern. I was very happy with the manner the project was designed and executed from the early days, as it was very clear to everyone that this interface was not geared merely towards performance, but was an attempt at establishing a dialogue on many fronts. This immediately set the project apart from collaborations that are often motivated by concert or recording possibilities alone. I was particularly heartened to find that members of the Ensemble believed more in the process than in the result, a conviction that I too share. Musical concepts and forms, technique, composition, notation, performance and a host of other areas were looked into. After our preliminary discussions with some of the Ensemble members in Mumbai, composer and conceptualiser of the project Sandeep Bhagwati readied us for the scope of the workshop in Frankfurt. His passion and patience has been most encouraging in this entire exercise. Meeting members of the Ensemble in Frankfurt, watching them rehearse and perform, exchanging ideas with them, and finally trying to put sound to notation and compositions that one had brought along, was an instructive experience. Despite the limited exposure to Western music that I had, working with the Ensemble musicians brought into sharp focus the scope of each of their instruments. The session on instrumentation techniques and the precise articulation and execution of these devices by the Ensemble members, was very informative and took me a step further in planning out the instrumentation for my compositions chosen for final performance.
Oral interpretation of a musical idea is often more quickly translated into actual practice than the notated version, due to the peculiar intonations and ornamentations being used in the compositions. I think the huge geographical distance between the two sides and the limited phases of interaction laced constraints on this collaborative venture. Needless to say, modern technology came to our rescue and we were able to send across recorded tracks of music for the Ensemble. The assistance we received from Francis and Damien in notating the compositions and the advice from them and Sandeep Bhagwati helped me comprehend the scope of orchestration for the composition.
Another shortcoming that is in fact related to the ones mentioned earlier pertains to the absence of a detailed discussion with the Ensemble about the compositions per se. The last session in Frankfurt had an open encounter where points related to each of the compositions were addressed, but I would have liked to have had a longer and more comprehensive discussion. This was probably not possible as the Ensemble was yet to familiarise itself with the compositions, going beyond reproducing the notation on instruments. I sincerely hope that we can have a dialogue in this connection before we perform and even thereafter. Much as I may have notions of being capable of composing for a Western ensemble, many of these are misplaced, and such a ruthless and frank dialogue would only help in taking the whole exercise a step further and enrich my own musical experience and study.
I certainly believe that the project will have a lasting impact on my musical perspective both as a student, performer and composer of traditional Indian art music and as a musician constantly involved in cross-cultural musical collaboration. As for a more immediate result, it will give me an insight into composition for and functioning of an orchestra. I have been over the past few years been trying to grapple with a recent development in traditional Indian music performance, which makes unfamiliar demands on performers. Indian music is by far traditionally a soloist tradition, but the new situation places Indian musicians in an ensemble mode. While this has lent different textures to a single performance, it has not provided the performers with roles distinct from their conventional solo format. I think my experience with the Ensemble Modern will acquaint me with some areas of Western orchestration. Naturally, the interaction will only give me a flavour of this musical perspective, but I look forward to extended collaborations for imbibing more such knowledge.