When a leading newspaper advertised the ‘Splendor of Masters’ show, the first thing that drew attention was the eclectic mix of musicians roped in to perform under the aegis of the performing arts company, Banyan Tree. With my nose wrinkled due to the lack of a bassist in an ensemble that contained flutes, saxophone, tabla, drums and a harp, I warily approached the venue looking for a parking space for the car, and as I quickly found out, parking at the Chowdiah Memorial Hall was a pain in the clutch box.
The warning bell proved to be a useful system to usher in the crowd. The lights dimmed and then brightened up again, whetting the musical appetites that I’m sure the close-packed audience had. Quite the anticlimax, but I was glad the show started on time, and when the curtains drew to reveal a 6-foot high glistening harp that drew oohs and aahs, I was willing to bet the collective thought at that point in time was: we’re in for a treat.
Gwyneth Wentink played three classical pieces in all, and took pains to harp about the harp in an amusing (and not so condescending) way. To say that the performance was soul-stirring would be an understatement; her performance showcased not only her skill, but her understanding of the Indian audience’s ability to appreciate the technicalities of Western classical music.
Right after this, Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia (flute), his protégé, and Subhankar Bannerjee (tabla) concluded the first half of the show on a slightly soporific note, not to say that what they played was bad in any way, but a lilt and a skip here and there would have ensured that three of my neighboring audience members did not drift away into sweet slumber. (Or was it intentional?)
A ten-minute breather after this first section saw samosa-lovers proceeding to the kiosk outside while strict crew members ensured that no one sneaked eatables into the auditorium. Kudos to the crew and ushers: who manned the isles during the show, urging people to turn off their cell phones, the eternal curse of gigs, or helping restless babies’ parents and restless parents’ babies to exit the auditorium, for obvious reasons.
George Brooks walked onto stage ‘blowing his own trumpet,’ nodding his head and dancing to his own tune on a tenor sax and dished out a groovy piece with Gino Banks displaying his skill on the drum kit. I thought the bass drum seemed too boomy initially, but as we settled into the ‘groove’, the feeling went away: either due to acclimatization, or because it sounded so bloody good, thanks to Mr. Banks finesse on the drum kit.
The grand finale with all the musicians present was delightful, and what helped was the excellent sound at this venue on this day. The western instrument players displayed their feel for the nuances of Indian classical music, and Panditji was phenomenal in the way he led the troupe. He humored the crowd after an encore, and played a piece each in the Hamsadhvani and Pahadi ragas.
Banyan Tree intends to bring together Indian and International artistes in this manner, and if they pull off a gig such as this, rest assured, I’ll be there.