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Evening Standard
Evening Standard
Simon Broughton

BBC Proms 2022: Prom 45 Amjad Ali Khan at the Royal Albert Hall review: a gorgeous start to the day

Indian classical music has been occasionally performed at the BBC Proms since 1971, but it’s usually been at late evening (or all night) concerts. Yesterday it was in the morning, so a rare chance to hear morning ragas performed at the apposite time of day. It marked the 75th anniversary of independence (August 15) and the players dedicated it to Mahatma Ghandi’s “message of peace and non violence”, presumably referring to Ukraine.

Amjad Ali Khan is India’s foremost sarod player and he was joined by his two sons Amaan and Ayaan Ali Bangash. The sarod is a plucked stringed instrument, less jangly than the sitar with a clear, lyrical and muscular tone. The concert began with Amaan and Ayaan playing an introductory raga with percussionists Sanju Sahai (on tabla) and Pirashanna Thevarajah (on double-headed mridangam drum).

It’s always hard to define what makes a morning raga, but Lalit has a strange and unsettling tonality, which seemed like waking up disoriented and slowly getting one’s mind into focus to find ribbons of coherent scales and finally a pulsating rhythm to face the day. Indian recitals always go from slow improvisation exploring the raga into a mid tempo composition with rhythmic accompaniment, with a virtuoso climax at the end.

Amjad Ali Khan was joined by his sons Amaan Ali Bangash and Ayaan Ali Bangash (Mark Allan)

The introductory piece lasted about 15 minutes and then Ayaan said “Let’s skip to the good part” and introduced their father to the stage. While the sons were dressed in dark blue, Amjad, aged 76, was in magisterial red and played two solo pieces. He’s told me that improvisations are just of the moment and then lost in time - which is what many people like about them. So his improvisations were short while the compositional parts were longer, as he feels these are a legacy he can pass on. The raga he played, Miyan ki Todi, was supposedly created by 16th century Mughal musician Miyan Tansen whose tomb is in Gwalior, the ancestral home of Amjad’s family.

And there’s a direct musical link here as he was trained in the Senia gharana (school) created by Tansen’s disciples. The mid-tempo section of this raga was the highlight of the concert - fully of melody, slowly drawing you in so that the smallest gestures have a dramatic effect. At one moment there was a gorgeous slide up the metal fingerboard of the instrument like an irrepressible yelp of pleasure. Exquisite.

Amjad added a short vocal piece so the finale with all three players was cut short and what we heard, with imitative phrases between father and sons, sounded a bit too much like a sarod lesson. But it was a spectacular lesson and earned a standing ovation all the same.

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