(with Wu Man, pipa and Zakir Hussain, tabla).
I've been addicted to the Kronos Quartet. Last week, I noticed they had released a recording in 2005 of R. D. Burman's music, recorded with Bollywood playback singer Asha Bhosle. I was curious, and picked up the album. After listening to it, I became more curious, and dug out some older Kronos recordings. Curiosity became obsession as I found myself listening to Nuevo
(a recording of Mexican compositions and folk tunes) and Cadenza on the Night Plain
(a recording of a Terry Riley string quartets) over and over again. I went to the website to read about the quartet and saw they were offering a series of six concerts at Carnegie Hall. On Saturday, they were playing music inspired by India along with Asha Bhosle.
I didn't buy tickets in time, and last night found myself fifth in the cancellations line. Before me was a woman from Germany in town for the weekend. She had just come from Los Alamos where she had interviewed for a reserch position and was on her way home. Just before her was a South Asian woman who lived around the corner. She said she had come to buy tickets weeks ago, but she had forgotten her money, and the box office had given her the impression that tickets would not sell out.
A man in a red jacket came around to ask us how many tickets we each wanted and at what price range. I told him I'd take the first available. At seven, the German woman decided to head downtown to meet up with a friend. She said there was a performance at St. Marks Church she had intended as a backup plan. I wished her well and was soon fourth in line. The woman ahead of me said she also had a backup plan, but decided to wait a little while longer. Soon, there was a cancellation ticket. The man in front of her forgot his money, and so she found herself a seat. She asked where it was, and the man in the red jacket showed her. He advised her to take the ticket. She did. She smiled and said she was going to go home to eat something before the concert.
At seven fifteen, another man appeared with two seats in the orchestra section. The first man in line lit up and said he'd take them. He thanked the man in the red jacket and was on his way. I moved up one more. A man with an extra ticket in the balcony appeared, and then I was first in line. I became more excited. Soon, the man in the red jacket appeared before me. "I have an excellent ticket in the center orchestra for $64.00," he said. I said I'd take it.
Inside the theater, I saw the first man in line. I smiled and he shook my hand. "Congratulations," he said. "I hope you enjoy the concert as much as I know I will." I went to find my seat; I was in the fifth row.
The concert began with an arrangement of a Sigur Ros song, which began slowly and then continued to build. David Harrington announced pieces from the stage, accompanied by a few remarks. The second piece was by an Ethiopian composer, and the third was a recent composition by a Canadian composer, Derek Charke, written just last year. After the performance, the quartet welcomed the composer onstage. He seemed thrilled.
With the next piece, they began delving into Indian music, performing a piece by Ram Narayan. They welcomed Zakir Hussein to the stage, saying there could be no better rhythm section. Next, Harrington said they realized when they were to begin recording the album of R. D. Burman songs that they would need a musician with the largest vocabulary of plucked sounds they could find. They found one in Wu Man, and she joined the quintet on stage. The audience erupted when they heard the first bars of "Mehbooba Mehbooba." And then it was intermission.
The second half of the performance was spirited, with an energy not found on record. David Harrington said that the greatest pleasures in life are few and far between. He said he would cherish this moment for the rest of his life, and introduced Asha Bhosle to the stage. She appeared on stage; she touched the ground. The audience gave her a standing ovation.
Bhosle began by describing her first meeting with the quartet. She named them all, including Wu Man, whom she called beautiful both inside and out, and Hussein, whom she said we already knew. Harrington had said it was the first time Zakir Hussein and Asha Bhosle had performed together on stage, even though Bhosle had known Hussein since he had baby tablas and the audience gasped with surprise. Bhosle apologized for her broken English, and tossed out asides in Hindi and Bengali. She said she was 73, and at her age, it was too much to learn another new language. The audience laughed. And then the quartet began the first song.
From her first note, I was mesmerized. Her speaking voice gave no hint of the beauty and strength of her singing, and I was transported. The quartet attacked each piece with vigor, and David Harrington was visibly enthralled, at one point pausing to tell Bhosle how beautiful her singing was. Midway through the second half, Bhosle said that Harrington had promised to dance with her on the Carnegie stage, and she signaled HUssein for a bhangra beat. Harrington said violinists don't dance, but he tried, much to the audience's delight.
Bhosle left the stage and the septet played a few songs without her. When she returned, she was dressed in yellow. She sang three more songs, and then an encore. At her last song, the audience burst into applause with recognition. The musicians joined her on the proscenium, and they all bowed together. The audience rose to its feet.