The Renga ensemble of London Philharmonic Orchestra partners with the Karnataka College of Percussion quartet in a unique synthesis

The London Philharmonic Orchestra is almost 80 years old. When it created the Renga ensemble 10 years ago, it was with the aim of putting together a bunch of musicians who are steeped in their roots but are also open to collaborations with genres of music different from their own and, as Renga refers to in Japanese, be open to the idea of the constancy of ‘change'. It essentially is Japanese collaborative poetry, each successive person adding something new to it. And continuing its quest for the new, Renga has now collaborated with the Karnataka College of Percussion quartet (KCP4), comprising percussionists T.A.S. Mani and Ramesh Shotham, vocalist Ramamani and pianist Mike Herting. The three-city collaborative tour concluded with a performance at the Capital's Kamani Auditorium recently.

“When we are collaborating we don't want a grey area but get deep into each other's culture,” says conductor Scott Stroman from London Philharmonic Orchestra. Explaining the idea behind the Renga ensemble, he says, “You add to what you already have, not subtract.” The idea behind the ensemble, he says, is two-fold – “generate new music for music for Orchestra musicians to play”, as well as “develop skills of Orchestra musicians.”

The musicians from Karnataka College of Percussion, though having their foundation in Carnatic music, have been experimenting with jazz and fusion. The collaboration, thus, only seems natural.

“Musicians of Renga play by ear as well as by written pieces. At the same time, musicians of the Karnataka College of Percussion have been working with western musicians for years,” says Stroman.

As Ramesh Shotham of Karnataka College of Percussion says, “It's more of a coming together and trying to find a common ground based on the expertise of the musicians involved.”

The question is, he says, about how “one goes about making a piece of music that makes sense.” Mike Herting created the special arrangements which allowed the compositions of the KCP4 to be picked up and improvised upon by Renga. This, while taking “jazz as the central point,” says Stroman.

What is it about jazz that makes it the most preferred medium for experimentation and fusion with forms vastly different from its basic structure and sound?

“The thing about jazz is that it's like a river. Jazz musicians are good at stealing styles from different cultures,” says Stroman.

After this, Renga continues to explore by collaborating with English traditional musicians from the group Bellowhead.