Programme note

Samaagam comes from a Sanskrit word meaning confluence or flowing together. In realising this work from Amjad Ali Khan’s singing and playing, and in rehearsing it with the SCO, I have aimed to preserve the essence of both Indian and Western traditions so that they can flow into each other without artistic compromise. I have used the orchestration of Indian ensemble music in the pre-Bollywood era as inspiration and have also looked back to the ancient (i.e. pre equal temperament) Western tradition incorporating elements which, because of their antiquity, do not violate the rules of Indian music. The aim is through this process to joyfully explore the common musical “DNA” of both traditions.

This kind of endeavour needs time and commitment as people need to learn new skills. We have been very fortunate to have the commitment of the wonderful musicians of the SCO Lab music project (which form the concertino group in the work) and the presence of Amjad Ali Khan himself, during a series of workshops which began back in 2006.

Amjad Ali Khan has remarked: “every raga has a soul and every musical note is the sound of God”. In tonight’s performance of Samaagam 12 different ragas will be presented. Some will make only a fleeting appearance; others will be explored for longer. (Not as long as in India however, where it is not uncommon for a musician to perform one raga for 8 to 10 hours -the duration of an all night concert- in order to bring out its full character!)

Samaagam is structured in three sections:

I. Ganesh Kalyan - Subhalakshmi - Swar Samir

II. Medley of Ragas (featuring Lab music players):

Maarva – Durga – Malkauns – Kaushik Dhwani – Kalavati – Basant - Megh

III. Khamaj – Bhupali – Bhairavi

The ragas in the first section were all conceived and developed by Amjad Ali Khan, who feels that these ragas have been invoked rather than created.

His sons Amaan and Ayaan have written:

“New faces (ragas) come to his mind and ask him their names; as they have no names Abba names them and they become new ragas. Listening to most of Abba’s ragas, one feels that they are traditional ragas which were born thousands of years ago, but for some reason, not discovered.”

Ganesh Kalyan made its first appearance at the Ganesh Festival in Pune in 1992. In Indian mythology, Ganesh, the elephant god, is the remover of obstacles and bringer of good luck. Also first presented in 1992, Subhalakshmi is a tribute to Mrs Subhalakshmi Khan, Amjad Ali Khan’s wife. Swar Samir, played here with a seven beat time cycle, made its first appearance in 1964, at the Harballabh Music Festival in the Punjab. It is inspired by two traditional ragas: Raga Rageshri and Raga Joge.

The Medley of Ragas features 7 traditional ragas in quick succession, and features the Lab musicians in solo and group improvisation. Indian Ragas are designed to be played at different times of the day, and different seasons of the year. The majority of the Ragas in Samaagam are evening or night-time ragas, however Maarva, which opens the Medley, was originally conceived to be played at sunset, and Megh, which closes the Medley during the rainy season. If performed expertly enough, it is said to induce rain!

The closing section initially explores the popular and sensual Raga Khamaj, which is said to “turn the flower red with passion”. This is followed by a glimpse of Raga Bhupali described as a woman “in expectation of her lover, nervously putting on her bracelets and moving hither and thither like a swing”. Samaagam finishes with an exploration of Raga Bhairavi. Bhairavi is perhaps the most popular raga in Indian music. It is traditionally a morning raga, played at the conclusion of an all night concert. Due to its popularity (and the contemporary lack of nocturnal musical marathons!) it is accepted that Bhairavi can be performed at any time of the day or night.

© David Murphy