Hello and welcome to Conductor’s Reports, the third in a series of blogs from Doug Peck, The Jungle Book's music supervisor, musical adaptor, arranger and orchestrator. During Candide, my first collaboration with Mary Zimmerman, I sent Mary conductor’s reports after performances to enhance the daily stage management reports and keep her connected to the show as we continued to develop the production in our travels from Chicago to Washington, DC and Boston. In keeping with this tradition, when I went on my second music research trip to India, I sent her reports of my experiences. The Goodman has asked me to share these notes and I am happy to do so. Enjoy!
(If you missed the first two reports, you can read them here and here.)
Day Two of the festival was even more crowded since it was Saturday. When I arrived, I was told there were no more tickets being sold, but again, I explained that I had traveled to India to hear music and the guard took sympathy. The great irony is that although he could not sell me a ticket (for numbers), he would walk me in, which he happily did. Even though I got there at the same time (about 30 minutes before the first act), the whole middle section where I sat on the first day was completely full, and I had to choose a place over to the side just behind the first section. I had to really crane my neck to see the actual stage, but much to everyone’s delight, this year the festival added video screens for those on the side. It was extremely helpful for me to watch the players’ hands and faces in close-up and see exactly what I was hearing.
First up was Arati Ankalikar, with whom I now obsessed. When she was singing, I honestly made comparisons to artists like Ella Fitzgerald and Barbra Streisand. Arati is an extremely beautiful, confident middle-aged woman with a beautifully husky sound and insane vocal flexibility. Like a Western classical singer, she lightens the tone when she ornaments and it’s really graceful and beautiful. Unlike some of the other ladies who are very stoic when they sing the ragas, she was incredibly expressive—almost an actress, you could say. I never wanted her set to end.
Next up was the wonderful tabla player, Swapan Chaudhuri, who has played many times at the festival as an accompanist, but was really excited to be making his solo festival debut. He was marvelous, really getting a ton of variety out of his tablas and having a great dialogue with his harmonium player—since they used a sruti box instead of live tanpura player, it was just the two of them on stage for his hour long set. I'm inspired and excited to keep practicing my harmonium for the show!
Then, it happened. Amjad Ali Khan took the stage. He gave lovely remarks before he played about his dear friend and colleague Ravi Shankarji (who passed two days before) and began his set. His instrument is sarod (looks somewhat like a sitar, but played on the lap like a guitar—and sounds a little more typically Asian than some of the other Indian strings) and he is the acknowledged all-time master. He has all of the musical economy of a great master of any genre and every single note he played added up to the sum total of a gorgeous masterwork. There is tremendous serenity and expression in all of his music, whether it’s reflective or jubilant. It felt like the entire city was silent, hanging on his every note. Being of the exact same generation of Shankar, his musical style is such that you sort of feel that the Stones are going to break into “Paint It Black” at any moment :) Unlike some of the other artists, who stick to the ultra-traditional formula of a first piece that’s around 45 minutes then a few other pieces that are shorter, Amjad Ali Khan creates a concert experience that is clearly informed by his performances in the West—you experience the songs as songs and none was longer than 10 or 11 minutes. It was so powerful to hear a true, true master—I'll never forget it.
I am so so so so glad that you encouraged me to take this second trip—my experience of the country and the music is so much richer and deeper now that I am truly able to breathe everything in, rather than a first trip’s sensation of just looking at things. I am having a million little musical epiphanies every day and have so many ideas to bring to our songs, especially the ones we haven’t workshopped yet. It's also really nice to have a breather from life and just sort of meditate on The Jungle Book for two weeks. Very happy.
OK...off to more concerts!