Ali Akbar Khan: Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, 7 April 2003

21. 6. 2010 | Rubriky: Articles,Live reviews

[by Ken Hunt, London] Ali Akbar Khan shuffled on stage with a walking stick, reasonable given he was one week away from 81. By night’s end, all memories of the frail character that had mounted the dais at the concert’s beginning had vanished. Swapan Chaudhuri, one of the most exceptional tabla players alive, provided the percussive accompaniment – a job a bit like catching eels with bare hands. He has an uncanny knack of being able to match and bat back this sarodist’s glorious spontaneity. Alam Khan was the second, junior sarodist but he coped brilliantly with his father’s senior waywardness. Ken Zuckerman, one of Khan’s senior disciples and head of his Basel college, and Malik Khan, Khan’s next son down after Alam, provided the drone accompaniments.

The section before the intermission (half had no place here) was an interpretation of ‘Hindol-Hem’ shaped with all the depth, authority and daring of a senior maestro. It coiled like a krait drawing life and energy from the spring sunshine. It was one of those performances during which Time becomes an observer. Typically, Khan himself lost himself, hence the remark about half. Announcing only that he would know what he was playing when he was playing it, he concluded with a ‘Piloo’- or ‘Mishra Piloo’-based piece with a dash of ‘Zila Kafi’ in the less demanding ragamala (garland of ragas) performance style. Before long, the music took over and began playing him. It produced a performance of unbelievable intensity, imagination and stamina. Its outrageousness had me laughing out loud at the sheer outrageousness of his playing and phrasing. A night imprinted in the grey cells.

This commissioned review, written directly after the concert, never ran owing to space restrictions. Ustad Ali Akbar Khan died in San Anselmo, California on 18 June 2009. Shortly before going on stage he learnt that he was unlikely to receive his fee in full and he channelled that discovery into one of the most intense performances I have ever seen from any musician. After the concert there literally was blood on his sarod’s strings.

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