In the crossfire between art and life


Last Friday, denizens of the city were able to sample the work of promising young pianist Sahil Vasudeva in The Unrecital, the intriguingly titled show he performed at the Royal Opera House. Part concert, part performance art, the show sees Vasudeva juxtapose events from his life with musical selections (including his own compositions) played live on a grand piano made available by ubiquitous music retailers Furtados. Voiceovers and projections give us a sense of the zeitgeist in which Vasudeva situates himself, caught in the crossfire between single-minded artistic pursuit and the more conventional demands of life.

It is a work created for intimate spaces, which has been Vasudeva’s schtick — transporting the Western classical recital from stodgy concert halls or hotel foyers into the lofts and nooks of an vibrant alternative arts scene. Here, back in a formal setting, replete with its rarefied art deco vibe, Vasudeva stands out, as he must, as a budding virtuoso unsure of his settings. Placed at a vantage, with a characteristic shock of unruly hair his signature attribute, audiences attentively watch his profile, leg firmly on pedal, as his articulate fingers draw us into Debussy or Chopin, traces of each note lingering on like wisps of smoke.

Musical testimonies

In between his playing, Vasudeva rustles up visuals of his alter-egos, or lived personas, while offering commentary in a distinctly self deprecatory tenor good for laughs. In silhouette, he is an investment banker fired from his job for being empathetic rather than hawkish. Later, on grainy video, we catch him as a glorified busker in a five-star do where the pianoforte is never the burnished centerpiece, but merely the backdrop to hors d’oeuvres and nimble-footed socialising. These are circles where talent is never the thing that is weighed in gold.

There is something to be said of Vasudeva bringing his contemplative introversion into full light in the manner of a testimonial. The material, and the compositions that add to its melancholic mood, speaks of the proverbial chip on an artist’s shoulder that must be outgrown fairly quickly lest it fester into the emblem of one’s martyrdom at the altar of high commerce. It appears to be a struggle that has not yet been fully transcended. Bitter-sweet ironies surface in Vasudeva’s conversations with his mother or friends or event managers on phone, or his Whatsapp chats with his erstwhile boss.

Reflections of life

In the backdrop are the overdone visuals from television featuring the usual suspects — a raging Arnab Goswami, teeming gau rakshaks, and the conditioning television ads that might have been a diversion in one’s youth but which were also insidiously indoctrinating. The basket of deplorables contains both of Vasudeva’s pet peeves — the facetiously liberal elite and the illiberal reactionaries. Against a video loop of the Raymond commercials that project the simulacrum of a ‘Perfect Man’ in worsted flannels, he consummately plays Schumann’s Traumerie, whose opening riffs have been reduced to a cliché, but his rendition allows even the familiar to soar unexpurgated into fresh territory.

The eponymous ‘unrecitalisation’, with the use of mixed media tropes, is naïvely artless in many ways, if never insincere. The projections of chaotic disorder create a world of ‘them and us’ in which the mainstream is effectively othered without nuance of complicity — a position that only the privileged might afford. For instance, Goswami’s invective might be manna from the heavens to his ilk bolstering their confirmation bias, but Vasudeva plods on in a resolute echo chamber of his own, playing accessible selections that don’t quite push the envelope, lest it alienate untrained ears, even if his talent is undeniably prodigious.

Merging mediums

When he steers clear of prevailing social commentary, and plays against a backdrop of slowly shifting photographic frames, it is a case of art supplementing art. Photographs from the works of Sohrab Hura and Igor Posner provide an aesthetic accompaniment to his playing that is sans posturing or overstatement. Hura’s ‘River of Lost Time’ is replete with images that are not without human insight, having been clicked along the Ganges, capturing existence in all its fatalistic acuity. So too, Posner’s depictions are compelling and raw, and transport us to a St. Petersburg that seems to perennially remain in a time warp. These are slideshows of pure goodness, accompanied by spirited renditions Tchaikovsky’s ‘June’ and Vasudeva’s ‘In the Footsteps’ respectively. Aficionados might even be tempted to toss their heads back and soak in the black-and-white imagery and soft-focus beauty that Vasudeva might have otherwise wanted to shrug off.

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Printable version | Dec 13, 2019 4:52:04 PM |

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