Come December, Dubai wears a festive look ahead of holiday season. And Downtown Dubai doubly so, with shimmering lighting along the Boulevard adding to the charm on a wintry night. What better setting than this to enjoy a concert at Dubai Opera in Downtown with the Burj Khalifa just in sight.
Renowned sitar player and composer Anoushka Shankar, who appeared on the stage — a bit late — with her musicians wasted no time in picking up a composition in the Kirwani raag (a musical scale in Hindustani classical music).
The night-time traditional raag was a perfect piece to begin the concert. Her impeccable rendition of this melodious musical scale had a soothing and meditative effect on the audience. Danny Keane on cello, Ojas Adhya on tabla, Prashanna Devaraja on mridangam and Ravichandra Kulur on flute ably supported Shankar in setting the mood for the rest of the night.
Like her illustrious father Ravi Shankar, Anoushka too experiments a lot with fusion music and this was at the heart of this performance as well. An ensemble of such diverse instruments as the Hindustani tabla, Carnatic mridangam and ghatam, and Western cello combined to provide a unique experience to audience.
Shankar next performed ‘Voice of the Moon’ from her 2005 album ‘Rise’ that again gave a wide scope for cross cultural dialogue. Keane moves from cello to piano as Devaraja alternatively picks mridangam and ghatam and the flautist Ravichandran Kulur moves from flute to morsing, Adhya from tabla to tala (cymbals) with Somdatta Basu on tanpura (string instrument) providing a complex aural collage.
Next in her repertoire was ‘Red Sun’ from the same album where Shankar collaborates with her instrumentalists to vocalise the composition leading to a crescendo in an evocative way.
Shankar narrates the theme of her next performance to a captive audience — a fictionalised account of the love story that led to the building of the beautiful Taj Mahal. Shankar says she got the opportunity to compose music for the 1927 silent film ‘Shiraz’, about a princess Salima who is rescued by a king from a marketplace. He brings her to the palace and eventually takes a liking to her and intends to marry her. But there’s a twist in the tale. There’s another woman, Dalia, who had eyed marrying the king and spreads rumours about Salima. Finally, love triumphs and the king wants to immortalise their love with a memorial.
Towards the end of this narration, Shankar admits she is bad at storytelling, but she lets her music speak for her. She chose a few bits of her more than one and half-hour score for the restored print of ‘Shiraz’, transporting the audience to an era of distant past, giving us a musical imagery of the fictional happenings. The sounds of the marketplace, Salima and the king’s walks through the gardens, the rustling of leaves, the flowing of the water, the sound of horses hooves et al by the sitarist and her musicians were a treat to cherish. It gave scope for all the instrumentalists to engage is musical conversations.
Before the rapt audience could realise, the concert had ended with Shankar and her team taking a bow. A bit of a disappointment for Dubai residents who have got used to lengthy performances — of at least three hours that run late into the night.
Dubai Opera’s acoustics are amazing and the lighting on the stage was just enough to highlight the musicians.