Utsav Lal: A brave new sonic world

Collaborative melodies Utsav Lal and Hidayat Khan bring together two music worlds  

All of 22 years, Indian pianist Utsav Lal has been making waves in the global music circuit as a man of promising ventures for over a decade now. Popularly dubbed the Raga Pianist, what sets him apart from the rest of the world’s pianists is his constant endeavour to make the piano an Indian instrument, by infusing ragas and Indian compositions on the Western instrument.

Utsav was in Bengaluru to perform on the first leg of a three-city tour with renowned sitar exponent Hidayat Khan at ITC Windsor Bengaluru, in a collaborative concert to celebrate the music of India, presented by YES Bank and ITC Windsor in association with Vodafone India and piano partners Furtados.

Rendering a concert of pure Indian classical ragas and popular Indian compositions, Utsav says the focus of their collaboration is to bring to the audience a celebration of the rich musical heritage of India. “Rather than presenting meticulously fixed pieces, we seek to open up an improvised musical dialogue on stage. Both Hidayat ji and I are inspired by music from many different traditions and while this is definitely not a fusion concert, with strong raga resources we are hoping to use our diverse influences to explore the raga compositions”

He points out that Bengaluru, with its reputation of a discerning audience, was the ideal place to start his tour. “This has always been an exciting and rewarding city to perform in.”

Performing together for the first time, Utsav says it’s great to do a duet collaboration since “Hidayat ji is an incredibly sensitive and musical player. I think the piano and the sitar go well together, but more important than the balance of instruments, is the balance of the performer’s temperament. We met in New York in April this year. We hit it off instantly and got on very well since our thoughts and musical preferences were quite similar.”

He adds that this is not a fusion of a western and Indian instrumentation, “Since I use the piano to play Indian ragas, so it is for me, an Indian classical instrument. This is a jugalbandi concert of Indian classical music on two instruments, of which the sitar is amongst the oldest kid on the block and the piano is one of the newest instruments in the realm of Indian classical music.”

Back in India after recording the world's first ever fluid piano ragas album in the United Kingdom, Utsav describes the experience as surreal. “An instrument that has all the strengths of the piano, the ability to bend strings and access the pure microtones of Indian music was exactly what I had been looking for over the last few years. I just finished recording the raga album last month in Curtis Schwartz’s studio and am looking forward to the release of this album, which is also the debut album of the fluid piano, under the Fluid Piano Tuning label by the end of the year. For any pianist, it’s an instrument definitely worth checking out. It’s an absolutely pivotal moment in the development of the piano since its conception over 500 years ago.” Looking back, Utsav says he’s had an amazing musical journey. “I’ve gotten a chance to learn from so many amazing people, play at some amazing venues and festivals as well as have the opportunity to be exposed to so many different kinds of music from hundreds of genres and traditions. It feels like I still need years to digest it all and more and more keeps coming. It’s incredibly exciting, but I also know in my heart that all of this is just the beginning.”

In the future, Utsav hopes to develop the potential for Indian music on the piano and establish the piano as an accepted instrument for this form of music.

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Printable version | Jun 16, 2021 7:36:08 PM |

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