From a review in The New York Times, November 10, 1994.
Copyright 1994 by The New York Times


By Edward Rothstein

"Follow the song," said Manilal Nag in the Tishman Auditorium of the hew School on Friday night, explaining how his style of Indian music must be heard. "First you must listen to the voice."

And then Mr. Nag demonstrated, his voice barely audible, sliding down to a note, gliding past it, bending slightly above it, wavering back and forth before sounding its center and sliding to the next pitch. He then imitated precisely the same vocal gesture on the sitar, the instrument's frets becoming irrelevant as the strings were bent and pressed into microtonal expression.

Mr. Nag is one of the major living practitioners of the Vishnupur school of sitar playing, which takes its inspiration from dhrupad, northern India's restrained, subtly detailed classical vocal style. He is the heir to several generations of family virtuoso sitarists and was making his first New York appearance, presented by the New School and the World Music Institute. It was an auspicious occasion.

Mr. Nag did not actually sing, but his sitar had all the characteristics of a human voice. It was as if one were being spoken to in a foreign tongue whose words, magically, were being made instantly clear. The first portion of the mix of ragas he played ("Suha-Kanada") seemed a reflection of the life of the mind; this section-the improvised, unmetered alap-astonished the ear with its circumlocutions, until gradually, as if by metamorphosis, a rhythmic structure began to develop, creating boundaries within which Mr. Nag's imagination flourished. This was almost painfully reflective music, ending, finally, ia an exuberant improvisatory interchange with Samir Chatterjee, whose tabla playing also seemed less percussive than vocal.

Experts in Indian musical theory could go into more elaborate detail. The temptation was to hear all sortsof similarities with the Western classical tradition. Important pitches became the axes in elaborate ornamentation. Paragraphs of sound were formed, creating large-scale structures that seemed to echo smaller melodic gestures.

Mr. Majumdar's playing sometimes suggested the way Beethoven reconstructed a theme out of its variations in his late works. Mr. Nag revealed how a multitude of different voices were always latent in the registers-of a single melody, pulling in many directions: one of Chopin's preoccupations. And in both cases there was something like Bach's manner of keeping a number of voices singing at once in the midst of repeated patter, with frenetic motion somehow managing to suggest a knowing, calm stillness. -- © 1986 The New York Times Company

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