Anupama Bhagwat & Gurdain Rayatt – St George’s, Bristol

Sunday 8th September, 2019

Two years ago, as part of 40 gigs’ extension, I went to my first Asian Arts Agency concert, to hear Debsamita Bhattacharya play the sarod and was so moved that I have kept a keen eye on the listings for opportunities to hear more Asian music. Earlier this year I went to see Seyed Ali Jaberi with the Hamdel ensemble, opening up my ears to Sufi music for the first time. As I had so enjoyed both of those concerts, supported by Asian Arts Agency and St George’s, as soon as I saw this one in the listings I was keen to get a ticket. I am glad I booked early for it, as the Glass Studio was full, clearly Bristol has thirsty ears for Indian classical music!

The Glass Studio is in the new extension of St George’s, a wonderful addition to an already magnificent venue, allowing in light and space and a touch of modernity to the old place. The acoustics are excellent and the space feels intimate whilst also feeling spacious. Go visit – there are a range of Saturday afternoon concerts on in there this autumn that are well worth checking out.

Anupama Bhagwat is one of the worlds leading sitar players and was more than ably supported by Gurdain Rayatt on tabla. These are probably the best known Indian classical instruments, thanks in part to the Beatles and their lasting influence. However, I have not heard a sitar and a table played in a duo before and to see and hear up close the magical sounds they produce was a real treat. It matters not a jot if you have no prior knowledge of Indian classical music, the whole point of these relaxed Asian Arts Agency concerts is to act as introduction, to bring people in and make them feel welcome and at home. An approach that western classical orchestras could do with adopting if you ask me. Introductions were made and both Anupama and Gurdain talked us through their instruments and the music they planned to play. I loved the way Gurdain talked about the tabla having its own language, that he speaks when he plays. This is exactly how I feel about music. It has its own unique and universal language. We all use music in our lives to say the things we cannot say in words. Despite spending the best part of 3 years writing about music, I will never come close to the emotional communication possible through music. That relationship with music is even more powerful for me, when a great deal of other forms of human communication are a great mystery, I can understand and share understanding with music.

The raga or raag that they played was over an hour long, without break and moved from a slower more gentle rhythm upwards and onwards towards its conclusion. It was a mid afternoon raga, of course, given that this was an afternoon concert.  I was utterly transported and moved to another plain and place by what I heard, it was magnificent. Time utterly melted and I felt a deep sense of calm and peacefulness (not states I often find myself in), I was lost in music and unaware of my surroundings (in a good way), my senses, so often assaulted by overload, were becalmed and held down gently while my swayed in time to the tabla rhythm and wondered at the bending and blending of sitar notes.

It was a wonderful way to spend time on a sunny Sunday afternoon. The final question of the Q&A that followed the concert, met with rousing applause, was “how soon can you come back?” echoing how we all felt.

This was my third Asian Arts Agency concert and I am determined it will not be my last. Thank you for bringing such wonderful sounds to my ears again and for broadening my musical horizons.

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