This morning we welcome Dublin-based pianist Utsav Lal to pick three lilting Sunday morning musical selections for us.
Choosing to perform on an instrument that has traditionally been considered unsuitable for South Asian classical music, and often referred to as the ‘Raga Pianist’, Utsav’s handling of a raga blends his diverse musical influences. Ranging from the Persian piano playing tradition of Morteza Mahjoobi, the genre-bending piano playing of Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou and extended techniques of Helmut Lachenmann.
Performing on a completely acoustic grand piano allows Utsav to alter the individual frequencies of each note through a slider that varies the string tension. This makes the microtones much more accessible and the note can be bent and altered once played.
Utsav Lal’s selection
Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou – The Homeless Wanderer
Utsav Lal: “This is currently my favorite record to listen to when I wake up. I’m obsessed with musicians who develop very unique personal voices on their instruments particularly when it is a direct result of their background. She has such an incredibly personal way of approaching the piano which reflects her intense and vivid life story. As an Ethiopian nun who was an Italian prisoner of war and had to flee Ethiopia multiple times during her life to Jerusalem amongst many other places, her music really reflects a deep and unique culmination of all these facets. As pianist and composer, her use of decay, systems of organization is fascinating. It also just really makes me happy when I listen to the record. I chose the first piece and it’s how I’ve started most of my mornings in the past few weeks and they’re incredible gems. “
Hilliard Ensemble – Viderunt Omnes (Pérotin)
Utsav Lal: “This is an incredible recording of an incredible piece. It’s from the 12th/13th century which has its own feeling of awe associated with the legacy. The mystery behind the authentic and traditional way to interpret something that old is fascinating for me. I can’t say too much about Gregorian chant music apart from reciting impersonal facts as it’s definitely not a tradition I purport to belong to but I will say that this piece has been an incredible catalyst for me to listen to the nuances of syllables and become way more consciously aware how this affects where in the frequency range everything we hear sits. It made me understand the sophistication of Indian classical music in a deeper way.“
Ustad Zia Fariduddin Dagar – Raga Jogia Durga
Utsav Lal: “There had to be a piece of Dhrupad from the Dagar family for several reasons. About 80 percent of the music I listen to is Dhrupad, I belong to the Dagar tradition, my guru is Wasifuddin Dagar. The Dagar dhrupad form of music is for me personally the most fascinating and rewarding in absolutely every conceivable way of listening to music. It’s peaceful, violent, yearning, rhythmically/intonationally/lyrically/melodically fascinating. For me. The problem with selecting something is that its so hard to pinpoint recordings as this music kind of functions as this continuum for me. I feel like I don’t put on recordings when I listen to them, I tune into something that is always going on. And also they’re mostly an hour long which exceeds the maximum duration for this. I picked this recording of Jogia-Durga because Fariduddinji is the first person I heard singing Dhrupad at a concert in Delhi when I was 12 years old. There were a few different musicians performing that night and barely anyone was left when he took the stage. The difference between the absolutely pure intention and expression of his art to the people before him blew me away and sucked me straight into my obsession with Dhrupad. I heard this ten minute recording a few days ago heading home on a late train after attending a slightly disappointing show. It felt very special.“
Utsav Lal – Raga Puriya
Sanjay: “I really enjoy listening to Utsav’s renditions of ragas on the piano. Particularly the ways in which he has discovered methods to approximate South Asian embellishments such as the ‘meend’ (glissando) and the ‘shrutis’ (microtones). This is a version of raga Puriya—a raga, he says, that he has explored a lot recently.“
Jatinder Singh Durhailay — Tree
Sanjay: “As well as a painter and illustrator, Jatinder Singh Durhailay is also trained in South Asian classical music, performing and practicing Kirtan as well as playing, among others, the rare instruments Dilruba and Taus.“
Eve Risser – Yesterdays (Jerome Kern)
Sanjay: “A soothing solo piano rendition of Jerome Kern’s 1933 song ‘Yesterdays’ by Eve Risser, with Boris Darley on sound. The original, with lyrics by Otto Harbach, was originally written for ‘Roberta’, a musical based on the novel ‘Gowns by Roberta’ by Alice Duer Miller.“
Myra Melford – Park Mechanics
Sanjay: “A serial award-winner, pianist and composer Myra Melford opens this track with a jaunty demeanour, but it grows increasingly agitated with flurries of notes. Not unlike many of her contributions to some other projects, the melody is to be discovered in fractured glimpses seen between rhythmic lines.“