An unusual Mridangam Concerto was premiered at New York City’s Juilliard School of Music recently.

Globalisation of Carnatic music is a recent phenomenon. At least as far as North America is concerned, efforts are still on by the Indian diaspora to organise festivals and tours by artists from India. This naturally confines the mission to a select few, mostly the children of Indians settled down in North America. To achieve the mission of globalisation and reach as diverse as an audience as possible, cross cultural initiatives are called for.

The new mridangam concerto with percussion quartet that premiered this month to a well attended audience at one of America’s most celebrated venues, New York City's Juilliard School of Music, was one such successful initiative.

The effort was the result of the collaboration between Dr. Payton MacDonald, a musician The New York Times describes as an ‘energetic soloist,’ and mridangam artist Dr. Rohan Krishnamurthy. Both these collaborators have a PhD from the Eastman School of Music in New York.

Dr. MacDonald christened the piece ‘Rohan.’ According to Dr Macdonald's notes on the piece, “I composed the piece for for my friend Rohan, mridangam virtuoso, composer, scholar, inventor and teacher. I structured the piece in the time honoured rondo form, with a refrain that comes back several times in which the entire ensemble plays unison figures based on a drum pattern Rohan sent me. In between these refrains, the ensemble plays a backing role to the solo drummer, who improvises solos at various rhythmic levels.” Dr MacDonald is at present on a Fulbright Fellowship in India studying Dhrupad vocal with the Gundecha Brothers.

The concert was conducted by Jonaathan Haas, Professor of Percussion at New York University, and performed with the Juilliard Precollege Percussion Ensemble. The ensemble featured core Western classical percussion instruments such as the marimba, vibraphone, crotales, and bongos. The piece showcased multiple solos on the mridangam and unique interplay between the mridangam and percussion quartet in catchy meters and melodies.

According to Rohan, since the piece uses traditional Western staff notation and newer hybrid systems of notation for the mridangam, it can easily be performed in other venues involving other artists. “Notation can be a huge musical bridge and will be a great tool when performing the concerto with other ensembles around the world,” he says.