Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

Michael Harrison Performs Indian Ragas and Compositions for Piano and Tabla With Nitin Mitta

pixeltracker

Including music from Harrison's new album Seven Sacred Names.

Michael Harrison Performs Indian Ragas and Compositions for Piano and Tabla With Nitin Mitta

On Thursday, August 12, 2021 at 8:30pm ET, composer, pianist and vocalist Michael Harrison will offer his debut performance of traditional Indian classical music, which he has adapted for piano with tabla accompaniment, presented by Drive East by Navatman.

The concert will be offered both in person at La Mama Experimental Theatre Club (66 E. 4th St.) for a fully vaccinated audience, as well as live online with the video being available for 24 hours after the performance. Celebrated tabla player Nitin Mitta will accompany Harrison. Harrison will also perform his own original compositions which are based on the traditional ragas (melodic archetypes) and talas (rhythmic cycles) of Indian classical music.

Although this is his first performance as a featured piano soloist in an Indian classical concert, Michael Harrison has performed Indian classical music for decades as a vocal (and occasionally piano) accompanist with his Indian music gurus Ustad Mashkoor Ali Khan and Terry Riley. His works for piano, such as Revelation, have also incorporated materials and structures from Indian classical music, but never in such a direct way and for an entire program.

Harrison's concert on August 12 will feature the live premiere performance of his piece Etude in Raga Bhimpalasi, which is included on his new album Seven Sacred Names (Cantaloupe Music). Seven Sacred Names was in the top ten albums on the Billboard Classical Chart upon release; The New Yorker described the album as, "music of positively intoxicating beauty." As the title suggests, Etude in Raga Bhimpalasi it is a virtuosic piano etude based on Raga Bhimpalasi (a late afternoon raga with a scale similar to the Dorian mode) in a slow 10-beat rhythmic cycle known as Jhaptaal. Harrison states, "Raga is almost always a single melodic line, and with the piano I create harmonic and polyphonic textures while maintaining the guidelines and mood of Raga Bhimpalasi. The work features a slow 4 against 5 polyrhythm."

By adapting traditional Indian classical music for the piano, Harrison explores new ways of incorporating the left hand for the piano, which imitates and enhances the sounds of the tanpura (drone) and tabla. Harrison is also a pioneer in his approach to harmonizing the ragas, which is a new development for what has otherwise remained as a monophonic tradition for centuries.

Harrison tunes the piano in his own version of just intonation to get the correct microtonal pitches and to maximize harmonic beauty and resonance. He is likely the only performer in the world to use a custom just intonation tuning, which beautifully adapts Indian classical music for the piano. Although the piano has been used in Bollywood film scores and fusion, there are very few musicians performing Indian classical music on the piano. Harrison's mentor, Terry Riley, occasionally does so.

About Michael Harrison: Composer/pianist Michael Harrison (called "an American maverick" by Philip Glass) is one of only a few musicians with equal training and immersion in both Western classical and Indian classical music. His music forges a new approach to composition through tunings and structures that extend the ancient concept of just intonation, a form of pure tuning constructed from musical intervals of perfect mathematical proportions.

Harrison creates dedicated tuning systems for many of his works. He also pioneered a structural approach to composition in which the proportions of harmonic relationships organically determine other musical elements such as pitch, duration, and dynamics. He seeks expressions of universality via the physics of sound - music that brings one into a state of concentrated listening as a meditative and even mind-altering experience.

Michael Harrison's music has been performed at BAM's Next Wave Festival, Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, the Muziekgebouw, Park Avenue Armory, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, MoMA, the Louvre, Centre Pompidou, MASS MoCA, Big Ears Festival, Spoleto Festival USA, the United Nations, Klavier Festival Ruhr, and the Sundance Film Festival. A Guggenheim Fellow, Harrison has been commissioned by Grammy-winning vocal group Roomful of Teeth, Alarm Will Sound, Maya Beiser, Cello Octet Amsterdam, Del Sol String Quartet, and Contemporaneous.

His evening-length work Revelation, for piano in his own tuning system, was named one of the Best Classical Recordings of 2007 by The New York Times, Boston Globe, and Time Out New York, and was called "probably the most brilliant and original extended composition for solo piano since the early works of Frederic Rzewski three decades ago" by Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Tim Page. Other acclaimed works include his Time Loops album with Maya Beiser (selected for NPR's Top 10 Classical Albums of 2012) and Just Constellations for Roomful of Teeth, from New Amsterdam (called "glacially beautiful" and "luminous" by Alex Ross in The New Yorker and selected for NPR's Best 100 Songs of 2020 and Bandcamp's Best of Contemporary Classical 2020).

While still an undergraduate student, Harrison met composer La Monte Young. Soon Young brought him to New York as his protégé, to study composition, performance, and Indian classical music. Harrison was the exclusive tuner for Young's custom Bösendorfer concert grand and became the only person other than the composer to perform Young's six-hour The Well-Tuned Piano. Living in Young's Tribeca loft during this formative decade, Harrison was immersed in the world of minimal music and art. Terry Riley became a close friend and mentor, within a broader circle that included John Cage, Philip Glass, Laurie Anderson, Walter de Maria, Marian Zazeela, and the founders of the Dia Art Foundation (the patrons of Harrison's work with Young). Most importantly, he became a disciple of Young and Riley's music guru Pandit Pran Nath, traveling to India with Pran Nath and Riley for periods of extensive study and practice.

Harrison's residencies include MacDowell, Yaddo, Camargo, McColl Center, Ucross, Djerassi, Millay, Bogliasco, La Napoule, I-Park, MASS MoCA, and the Visiting Artists program of the American Academy in Rome. In addition to the Guggenheim, his awards include a NYSCA/NYFA Fellowship, Aaron Copland Recording Grant, Classical Recording Foundation Award, IBLA Foundation Prize, American Composers Forum residency and performance in the Havana Contemporary Music Festival, and a New Music USA Grant. Harrison received his Masters in Composition, studying with Reiko Fueting, at Manhattan School of Music. He invented the harmonic piano," a grand piano that plays 24 notes per octave, documented in the Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments. His music has been recorded on Cantaloupe, New Amsterdam, Innova, New Albion, and New World Records.


Related Articles View More Classical Music Stories

Featured on Stage Door

Shoutouts, Classes & More

More Hot Stories For You