Program Notes (Western audience):
One of the most fascinating raags I have yet encountered in my study of Hindustani music is Raag Basant. Basant means ‘spring’ in Hindi, but it couldn’t be further from the Western conception of the season. Against a canvas of chirping birds and pastel colors, Basant feels dark and exotic, rendered in bold colors, and winding through passages of sinewy chromaticism.
The piece starts with large dense chords that change one note at a time, until they find their way slowly into Basant. This is followed by an excerpt from a short Hindustani composition (called a bandish) in Basant, stylized and notated to accommodate the sonic possibilities of the piano. This bandish builds and eventually which vanishes back into the dense chords, only to have a little bit of Basant bleed through at the end.
The title of the piece comes from an iconic Hindi film, “Rang De Basanti” (which literally translates to “Give it the color of Saffron”). Instead of giving this piece the color of saffron, I wanted to “color” it with the aesthetic of Raag Basant.
Program Notes (Indian audience):
When I first learned the raag Basant, I was fascinated by how differently the sounds of spring are portrayed in Hindustani music than in the west. The tension between the shudh and tivra madhyam, the windy descent, seemed to evoke such different aesthetic associations than the ones I have learned through western music, and I wanted to explore how Basant would feel when laid into the western medium. The title is, of course, a play on the title of the film Rang De Basanti. Instead of giving this piece the color basanti (saffron), I wanted to “color” it with the aesthetic of Raag Basant.
The piece starts with large dense chords that change one note at a time, until they find their way slowly into Basant. This is followed by an excerpt from a short bandish in Basant, stylized so that it plays to the strengths of a western pianist. This builds and eventually which vanishes back into the dense chords, only to have a little bit of Basant bleed through at the end.
(see video above)
Also, check out this beautiful recording by pianist Chelsea de Souza
This piece was commissioned by Kimball Gallagher. It was premiered throughout South and Southeast Asia on Gallagher’s tour in 2013.
“This is a magnificent piece, a meeting of cultures in which each element enhances the other. The raag is first stated as a single line in the bass ragister, but after we hear it layered it gains an added sense of strength and purity. The title, Rang de Basant (Give It the Color of Saffron) refers to a classic Hindi film.” – Colin Clarke, Issue 42:6 (July/Aug 2019), Fanfare Magazine.