sat 13/07/2024

Degun, Scottish Ensemble, Queen's Hall, Edinburgh review - fusion of east and west, ancient and modern | reviews, news & interviews

Degun, Scottish Ensemble, Queen's Hall, Edinburgh review - fusion of east and west, ancient and modern

Degun, Scottish Ensemble, Queen's Hall, Edinburgh review - fusion of east and west, ancient and modern

Strings and sitar soar in imaginative collaboration

Jasdeep Singh Degun and Scottish Ensemble in actionScottish Ensemble

In a fusion of musical traditions both eastern and western, old and new, Scottish Ensemble were joined by virtuoso sitarist and composer Jasdeep Singh Degun for an evocative performance of Degun’s own work plus reimagined music by Terry Riley and Hildegard von Bingen at Edinburgh’s Queen’s Hall.

Opening with Veer, from Degun’s 2022 album Anomaly, Degun’s sitar playing is instantly arresting, against a pulsating pedal from the lower strings. As the piece progresses, pizzicato strings create unexpected harmonies and the work progresses through interesting tonal shifts. The musical metamorphosis continued with Degun’s Cycles to the Power of 15, a highly intricate work based on an Indian raga, which featured an extraordinary depth of sound from tabla player Harkiret Singh Bahra. 

Terry Riley’s Sunrise of the Planetary Dream Collector had a gentle potency, with seamless overlapping of its complex rhythms. The work, which was written in 1980 for the Kronos Quartet, comprises 24 modules which the performers select when, and how, to play, thus co-composing each iteration of the piece. This work is a natural choice for this collaboration on many counts. Degun explains to the audience that music is not notated in the Indian classical tradition. Riley himself had stopped notating his music, and Sunrise of the Planetary Dream Collector was the first piece he had written down since 1965, after much persuasion from the Kronos Quartet. North Indian classical music also inspired much of Riley’s compositions, and he worked extensively with the sitar player Krishna Bhatt. The piece is inspired by a notion of a "collector who came around every day on the planet and collected all dreams so that they could be redistributed the next day", and its ethereal qualities were evident here with this combination of instruments. 

Degun displayed amazing dexterity in an arrangement of some of his concerto for sitar and orchestra Arya. Based on a morning raga, the string playing from the ensemble was seamless, with Degun’s nimble fingerwork growing ever more frenzied as the piece reached its climax. Ending with the celestial beauty of Hildegard von Bingen, the music of this mediaeval German abbess sounded as though it could have been written for sitar, exemplifying a comment made by Degun earlier about all music containing a universal commonality. Bingen’s intricate polyphony segwayed smoothly into a lament by Degun which brought the concert to a peaceful close.

Collaborations like this can often feel – though well intentioned – two separate things crudely glued together. To merge different traditions and practices successfully and meaningfully takes intelligence, patience, respect and, perhaps most importantly, time! It was cheering that these qualities were displayed in this performance, which was most definitely a whole greater than the sum of its parts.

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