A versatile family

Arts

October 13, 2005|By MARY CAROLE MCCAULEY | MARY CAROLE MCCAULEY,SUN REPORTER

Like father, like daughter?

Legendary sitar player Ravi Shankar will appear in Baltimore and Bethesda next week with an ensemble of Indian musicians and singers for an evening of ragas. Joining them will be 24-year-old Anoushka Shankar, who will conduct the ensemble during the first half of the performance and play the sitar with her father during the second half.

"This is the first time I've toured with other musicians," the elder Shankar, 85, said. "I've done that in other parts of the world but not in this country. It's been a great success wherever we've performed it."

Father and daughter are amazingly versatile, musically and in the way they shuttle seemingly effortlessly between East and West.

Ravi Shankar began his career as a dancer before finding his calling with the sitar. Not only is he the acknowledged world master on this extremely difficult instrument, but he also composes for it.

"I'm always learning," he said. "It's like driving through a fog. You see just a little bit. And then you go on, and you can see a bit more."

An astonishingly varied slate of musicians refers to his influence as key in developing their careers.

Most famous of course is former Beatle George Harrison, who brought Shankar to Woodstock and began a professional and personal relationship that lasted until Harrison's death. It's Harrison who famously dubbed Shankar "the godfather of world music."

But Shankar's influence on jazz great John Coltrane was no less permanent or profound. Shankar has also written compositions for violinist Yehudi Menuhin and flutist Jean Pierre Rampal, and has collaborated with minimalist music master Philip Glass.

Menuhin has described Shankar like this: "His genius and his humanity can only be compared to that of Mozart's."

Like father, like daughters?

Anoushka Shankar is a true world citizen: raised in London and now dividing her time between her parents' homes in San Diego and New Delhi.

She has released four critically acclaimed sitar albums (becoming the youngest person nominated for a Grammy award in world music), and she conducts and composes and is an accomplished classical pianist.

"That's normal for me," she said. "Sometimes I hear my father's voice in my head so intensely it makes me want to go out and try something else."

Her most recent album, Rise, which was released Sept. 27, is her way of reflecting on her varied musical heritages. "It has a little flamenco, a little electronics and some Middle Eastern flavors," she said. "It all sort of comes together in a very different way."

Anoushka Shankar, the only artist in the world to be trained exclusively by Ravi Shankar, clearly is the offspring expected to inherit his mantle as the champion of classical Indian music. But she is not the only offspring to inherit his talent.

Jazz and pop chanteuse Norah Jones is Shankar's daughter from a previous relationship. At age 26, Jones has a slew of Grammys of her own and is one of the brightest lights on the contemporary music horizon.

Ravi Shankar lost touch with his elder daughter for 10 years, though they re-established their relationship after she turned 18. He acknowledges that his influence on her musical training was nil, though he said, "She used to listen to me practice, and at one point, I even had a sitar made for her."

But blood, as they say, will win out.

In a photograph of the two young women posted on Anoushka Shankar's Web site, anoushkashan kar.com. it's difficult to tell the sisters apart. Ravi Shankar has said his daughters have similar personalities, and Jones displays a versatility similar to that shown by her father and sister. She is as adept playing the piano as she is before the microphone.

It's reminiscent of J.S. Bach and his two talented sons, and it seems to bolster the case for the genetic transmission of talent. Doesn't it make Ravi Shankar wish he had more children?

He laughed a big laugh.

"Absolutely," he said.

Ravi and Anoushka Shankar will perform at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 20 at Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, 1212 Cathedral St. Tickets cost $31 to $81 and can be bought by calling 410-783-8100. They also will perform at 7 p.m. this Sunday at the Music Center at Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, Bethesda. That performance is sold out.

mary.mccauley@baltsun.com

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