On 13 March, Grammy Award-winner Pandit Vishwa Mohan Bhatt performed live on his Indian Slide Guitar (Mohan Veena) with the outstanding classical pianist Ambre Hammond, and young tabla player Himanshu Mahant. The concert, aptly titled Raag Beethoven, was truly unique and meaningful matinee recital, exploring the DNA of classical Indian and Western music forms of music.
Advertised as a ‘jam session’ the setting of the Studio Theatre replicated the ‘Mehefil’ style performance featuring a small audience in an intimate setting. Pandit Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, a disciple of Pt Ravi Shankar is one of India’s greatest classical musicians and a recipient of some of India’s highest civilian and arts awards such as the Padma Shri and Sangeet Natak Academy Award. Having modified the slide guitar to suit Indian music, he has created his own version of a guitar, bearing a hauntingly rich and melodious sound by adding 20 strings to this instrument, and the base of a veena he now calls it a Mohan Veena. The writer asked where one could buy one of these special guitars to which Panditji with a smile said, let me know and I will find one for you.
In the mid 1990s, Bhatt collaborated with Ry Cooder to create the Grammy Award winning album “A Meeting by the River”. He has also collaborated with Western artistes like Taj Mahal, Béla Fleck and Jerry Douglas, and he appeared in the 2004 Crossroads Guitar Festival, organised by Eric Clapton. Ambre Hammond is an outstanding Australian talent. Described as a child prodigy, she gave her first concert when she was just five years old. In 1990 at age 12, Ambre achieved a world record when she received the Associate and Licentiate Diplomas of music in the same year.
Ambre has performed both solo and with orchestra throughout Switzerland, England, Italy, Spain, Poland, North and South America, New Zealand and China. Renowned Hollywood film writer and composer Lalo Schifrin was recently commissioned to write a very special Concerto-style work for Jazz Trumpet, Classical Piano and Orchestra especially for Ambre Hammond and James Morrison. It was performed at the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall in 2009 and was an outstanding success.
On the tabla was the up and coming Himanshu Mahant, a disciple of the great (late) Pandit Kishan Maharaj. A versatile performer with a promising career. The concert commenced with Ambre Hammond on the Piano playing the symphonies of Chopin and Mozart and setting the standard with the sounds of her flying emoting fingers on the Piano. A aural treat. This was followed by Vishwa Mohan Bhatt playing in Raag Yaman ably accompanied by Himanshu on the Tabla.
The Second half was something that the audience waited anxiously to hear, the collaborative works of Raag Beethoven. While the two musicians showed a lot of promise neither could get into the mood they wished to create completely appearing a bit discontinued inthemiddle, the programme ended in a resounding thihaee ably followed by Ambre on the Piano. Finally the two finished with Ravi Shankar’s composition which made up for the lack of making an impression in the previous piece. All in all a grand evening. The second half of the evening continued with a solo concert of Panditji when he played a full vilambith druth and madhya in Purya Kalyan finishing the concert with various dhuns and finally a thumri. Just when we thought the evening was over, Panditji picked up the mic and sang a little tune, asking the audience to join and repeat after him and when the audience joined in and started foot tapping and clapping to his beats he took off on his guitar creating waves of improvising notes establishing that he is indeed a first class entertainer with his heart firmly settled in his instrument and his ragas.