Review: Anoushka Shankar Project at Auckland Town Hall

By Graham Reid

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It has been almost 27 years since sitar master Ravi Shankar played at the Auckland Town Hall. That's a lifetime ago - coincidentally that of his gifted daughter and student Anoushka who, in the same venue with her ensemble on Friday confirmed she is not only an inheritor of a long tradition but like her father - who has written for and performed with the likes of Yehudi Menuhin, Andre Previn and Japanese koto players - is extending the repertoire and range of the sitar into sometimes daring new areas.

San Diego-raised Anoushka recently noted she had been performing for more than half her life, and that was evident in her technical brilliance on the opener, the rapid and taut Raga Charukeshi, and in charismatic stage confidence.

Any doubts her playing lacked gravitas were dispelled on the second piece when she invited pianist Leo Dombecki, cellist Barry Phillips and flute player Ravichandra Kulur to join her, tabla player Tanmoy Bose and Nick Able (tampura) on a thrilling and sometimes dark journey through a raga she had arranged from a sitar/cello duet her father had written.

This was a work of great melodic complexity and depth but it was followed by an even more inventive piece, her own Three Raga Suite which opened with a sprightly folk feel but by the second movement had become more ominous through plucked cello.

Rippling piano figures ushered in the final section in which Shankar proved herself capable of great emotional depth.

But this was also an intelligently varied programme and the spoken percussion dialogue between Bose and Kulur, a melancholy ballad, and a flamenco-influenced piece drew sustained appreciation from the capacity crowd. Her expansive Red Sun and Voice of the Moon - which explored an area between austere ECM-styled jazz and world music - confirmed that this Shankar, while mindful and respectful of the tradition she is continuing, is also not afraid to extend the parameters of her work.

Some in the visibly multi-cultural audience may perhaps have wished for a more conservative programme, but Anoushka Shankar is quite clearly her own woman - and in that regard also very much her father's daughter.

- NZ Herald

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