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Giving Voice to Strings

March 24, 2000|JOSEF WOODARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Over the past few months, CalArts has sponsored "Music Explorations 2000," a broad-minded series of concerts conveying ideas from the avant-garde, world music and other traditions beyond the mainstream.

In a sense, tonight's series closing at the Walt Disney Modular Theater on the CalArts campus comes home with a concert of north Indian Hindustani classical music--home because CalArts is a well-known haven for non-Western styles, including Hindustani.

In this case, the designation "faculty concert" is entirely a positive thing, a chance to hear publicly the artistic resources at California Institute of the Arts.

Sarod player Rajeev Taranath will perform with tabla player Swapan Chaudhuri in a program that includes a demonstration by Chaudhuri's tabla students. Taranath, who has taught at CalArts since 1995 and performed around the world, is an impassioned protege of master sarodist Ali Akbar Khan.

Khan, regarded as the world's greatest sarodist, has headed up his own college of music in Northern California for 35 years. His performances, including a passionate one at UCLA last year, tend to dazzle with their depth of feeling and instrumental mastery.

Taranath's own path to a life devoted to the sarod was circuitous. As a youth, he was a well-known vocalist.

"I used to have, they said, a sweet voice. But one day, the cuckoo became a crow," he said. "I didn't bother about other youngsters. My friends were my father's friends, who liked my music. Naturally, that makes one feel high and vain and all that. Then, when the voice broke, I felt very lonely."

He was studying in college with an ambition to become an academician when his musical longings were reawakened when he heard Khan perform with Ravi Shankar, another important mentor.

"About 10 or 15 minutes into the program, Ali Akbar just soared," Taranath said. "There was such a stillness and also a fullness in the audience. That was a very decisive moment for me."

He studied with Khan in Bombay for several years, but ended up slipping into the life of the academician, teaching English literature in India. He followed that course until Shankar called on him to take a sharp detour.

"[Shankar] kept tabs on me and insisted that I resign and continue playing sarod," Taranath said. "And so I resigned. I have him to thank for that."

One of the attributes of the sarod, a fretless string instrument that allows a player to navigate smoothly between notes, is that it can convey vocal-like qualities.

"Vocal music is at the center of classical Indian music," Taranath said. "The instruments get into the business of mining the voice and, in so doing, find their own genius."

BE THERE

North Indian Classical Music Concert with Rajeev Taranath and Swapan Chaudhuri, tonight at 8 at CalArts' Walt Disney Modular Theater, 24700 McBean Parkway, Valencia. Tickets: $7 general admission, $3 alumni, $2 students and senior citizens. (661) 253-7800.

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