Gifted musicians Baluji Shrivastav and Takashi Kikuchi’s free lunchtime concert on Friday 9 September as part of Unlimited Festival at the Southbank Centre was a real treat. Stephen Portlock is familiar with the work of these virtuoso musicians, but their performance far exceeded his expectations.
After my interview with Baluji I had expected this concert to be something in the vein of his solo CD The Art of the Indian Dulruba – beautiful, relaxing work, which rewards close attention but also can function as a background to everyday activities.
Yet what was provided to a packed audience at this recital was far more interesting. Baluji has previously demonstrated his versatility through collaborations with among others Shakira, Madness and Stevie Wonder. Today he played alongside fellow Inner Vision Orchestra member, multi award-winning viola player Takashi Kikuchi and together they improvised off one another with Baluji on sitar and tabla and Takashi on viola and percussion.
What followed could be described as a case of East meets East while gently flirting with the West. So while the music retained a distinctly Eastern feel to it in both its sound and in its free nature, it frequently drew on Western influences. Formerly dressed in a suit, Takashi performed solo renditions of Bach’s Sarabande and Bourree whereas soon afterwards Baluji, in traditional Indian attire and (as he pointed out) bare feet, joined in on improvised Eastern infused renditions of Greensleeves, Gershwin’s Summertime and Kosma’s Autumn Leaves.
Maybe the latter inclusion was in acknowledgement of the fact that the gig took place in September but there was nothing melancholic about proceedings. Nature, though, did seem to be a consistent motif. Introducing another piece, Song of the Seashore, Takashi described it as a mix of a traditional Japanese tune and a Western idea. The song was designed to evoke the experience of walking on a beach, listening to the wind and the waves, watching the clouds and smelling the sea.
The latter piece allowed Takashi the opportunity to display the rich tenor singing voice, which he had previously demonstrated when performing with the Inner Vision Orchestra (including on their CD).
The concert culminated with Baluji going solo performing both a North Indian classical piece and his own compositions, one of which features on his CD Shadow of the Lotus. Baluji has a pleasant singing voice, but it got slightly drowned out at times by the sound of the accompanying sitar and tabla. My friend who accompanied me would also have preferred the concert to end with a duet between the two performers. However, these were minor quibbles.
This concert being part of the Unlimited festival, Baluji took the opportunity to call for more recognition of visually impaired musicians as equal to their sighted compatriots. One can only hope that this wonderful concert helped in some way to bring that about.
Baluji Shrivastrav OBE will be performing in Soho on the 19th September as part of London Fashion Weekend. Two days later the Inner Vision Quartet will be giving a lunchtime concert for Breathe Arts on September 21 at Guy’s Hospital as a part of National Eye Health Week,