Irish Arts Center Presents Utsav Lal In Livestream Concert, June 3
Irish Arts Center (IAC), based in New York City and renowned for presenting the best in Irish and Irish-American arts and culture, presents two free live-streamed Ragas to Reels performances from Utsav Lal, the prodigious 27-year-old pianist whose raga-inflected trad music has earned him marquee billing at Dublin's National Concert Hall. Deriving fresh inspiration from ancient musical tradition, Lal draws on the depths of his diverse musical influences to develop his unique voice for the piano and his long-term project Ragas to Reels brings a deep and meaningful meeting of two living musical traditions-Indian Classical Music and Irish Traditional Music.
IAC's two-part online engagement with Lal marks the American premiere of Ragas to Reels, and features Ragas to Reels for Kids, in which families can join along by making their own "homemade drumkits" using objects from home to learn classic Indian and Irish rhythms (June 3 at 11am); as well as a live solo concert (June 3 at 7:30pm), featuring a pre-recorded premiere of an IAC- commissioned piece written with musician, composer, and Ragas to Reels collaborator Sam Comerford, and performed with Comerford and acclaimed tabla player Nitin Mitta. These performances are part of the At Home with Irish Arts Center initiative within IAC's reimagined Spring 2020 season-responding to our current moment of social distancing with a brimming program of free online performances, talks, and gatherings.
The music of Ragas to Reels strives to be respectful of its parents, yet fiercely independent, aiming to represent the changing face of Ireland and India and the complexities of identity in an increasingly fluid world. For Ragas to Reels' American premiere at the Irish Arts Center-where, for the 2018 the Spirit of Ireland Gala, Lal collaborated with Colm Mac Con Iomaire and Loah, and again joined them in a weeklong residence in 2019-the intent was to bring a fresh and new repertoire in an energetic and colorful statement of unity.
As an Indian classical musician who has lived in Delhi, grew up in Dublin and now resides in NYC, Lal's approach to Indian and Irish traditional music has been multidimensional. The music for his live virtual solo concert takes an all-encompassing approach to examining the different nuances of these two traditions: the similarities and yet the frictions between ornamentation, the contrasting approaches to space, and the shared cyclic nature of tension and release which underscores the foundation of the music.
Lal says, "Possibly the most important parallel for me is the blurred distinction between composition and improvisation in these traditions. The 'living' qualities of existing compositions passed down through oral tradition are constantly morphing, assimilating new ideas in line with new generations of individual styles. Taking all of that into consideration, the primary focus of the material is to arrive at something greater than the sum of its parts. Reels mesh into jhala patterns, slow airs coalesce into alap phrases, jigs segue into original material written to highlight signifiers of both genres, but the final product is striving to be not just Indian classical music and Irish music standing tall together. It's attempting to lay new foundation stones to develop a unified voice based on my experiences of these two incredible traditions on an instrument, that is still a relative newcomer in the worlds of Irish and Indian music."
The premiere of the Irish Arts Center commission written with Sam Comerford was originally intended to be performed live in a string of concerts this spring season with Comerford and Nitin Mitta; their collaborative performance will now be presented in a pre-recorded video screened during Lal's otherwise solo evening concert. In the recorded piece, the Indian Classical and Irish Traditional Music traditions are represented in the reconstruction of two laments, around which Lal and Comerford have written new material: "Yaad Piya ki Aaye" and "Lament of the Three Marys."
Lal describes the piece, with its elements of juxtaposed laments: "On the Irish side, we have 'Caoineadh na dTrí Muire' (The Lament of the Three Marys) and on the Indian side, there is the incredible Thumri 'Yaad Piya Ki Aaye' written by legendary Indian vocalist Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan in remembrance for the passing of his wife. They are both deep-seated in their respective modal, oral traditions featuring slow emotion drenched melodies and they have both meant a lot to me. They have malleability and allow permission for us to put ourselves and our experiences into them, whilst retaining their extremely authentic and timeless identity. Melodically, conceptually and emotionally, both the pieces are vaguely similar, but what is more striking to us is the way these attributes interlock in and complement each other beautifully. When playing around with them, it really feels that the rasa, the juice of these pieces fit together more like intricate wood joinery rather than completely immersing one in the other and therefore shadowing it out. Our attempt is to try and capture their beauty, sorrow and peace in our own voices through our own respective lenses, while acknowledging and respecting these two towering triumphs of human expression."
Lal's performances will be available to view live here.
The digital Spring 2020 Season at IAC responds to the obstacles and needs of our current moment with trademark creativity, invention, and emphasis on community. At a time when community, culture, and art are at once crucial and harder than ever to access, IAC aims to share illuminating, hopeful, resilient artistic experiences that inspire and nourish throughout their digital Spring 2020 Season. Other featured artists-originally scheduled to appear in person for the spring calendar-include: Junior Brother and This Ain't No Disco; Paul Muldoon, Rogue Oliphant and special guests for Muldoon's Picnic; Darach Ó Séaghdha of the Motherfoclóir podcast; Marie Jones, Matthew McIlhenny and Matthew Forsythe from A Night in November; Ailbhe Smith and Belinda McKeon; Christine Tobin and Phil Robson of Tobin's Run on 51; IAC NYC Dance Festival troupes; Stephen McGinn; and Sinéad Gleeson-alongside a range of some of IAC's favorite artists from New York, Ireland, and beyond, including Jenna Nicholls, Brendan O'Shea, Branar Téatar do Pháistí, Lorkin O'Reilly, Dana Lyn, and many more. These free performances accompany another free initiative shared this season: Live from Irish Arts Center, a curated selection of performances from the organization's intimate theatre, captured through the years and introduced by the artists. Additionally, IAC also recently commenced their spring season of classes-26 different courses (each in six-to-eight-week sessions, via the interactive video platform Zoom) taught by experts in Irish music, dance, language, theater, and storytelling. All "At Home/Live From" programming is free to the public. Donations to support Irish Arts Center's work can be made online here.