Ravi Shankar & Andre Previn – Concerto for Sitar and Orchestra

To commemorate what would have been Pandit Ravi Shankar’s 96th birthday, I thought I’d document another fascinating collaboration of Shankar’s that is in the same vein of East meets West as his collaborations with Yehudi Menuhin, which I have documented in another post. This work arose from a commission Shankar received to compose a work for sitar and an orchestra from the London Symphony Orchestra. Shankar was intrigued by composing in this way following those collaborations with Menuhin, especially since many of those recordings were improvised while this was to be composed in advance. Shankar blurred the lines by including bongo drums instead of the traditional tabla drum typically found in ragas as well as incorporating the call-and-response form that is typical of a concerto into the composition. There are many excellent recordings of Shankar performing more traditional ragas and today would be a good day to dive in, but I wanted to shine a light on this slightly off-beat record in his tremendous body of work. He was a master of the form and his influence on Western perception of Indian classical music and on music in general is difficult to overstate. His legacy lives on in these many recordings and the increased influence of raga forms on contemporary music and in more literal form through his daughter, Norah Jones. This recording, despite being so unorthodox, sold surprisingly well when it was released in 1971, leading one EMI executive to remark that it “sold like a pop record.” Somehow I find it hard to believe that this trend could be repeated, but one can dream.

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