Head and shoulders portrait of Andrew Glynne

Andrew Glynne, Composer

Rupak Kulkarni seated on a concert stage playing the bansuri flute.
Rupak Kulkarni. Wikiuser music, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Raag Jog performed by Rupak Kulkarni with Ojas Adhiya

Rupak Kulkarni plays the bansuri which is an instrument similar to a western flute but it differs from it in a number of ways:  it is made of hollowed bamboo rather than metal and has no keys but instead holes (usually six) are drilled along the instrument and covered, or partially covered as appropriate, to sound particular notes. In addition, there is no lip plate to assist the player in directing air into the instrument; consequently, it’s much harder to play than a western flute. As for the sound that is produced on the instrument, it’s very solid and rich and certainly distinctive.

Kulkarni was apparently a child prodigy and it is evident from his recordings that he is very accomplished. His playing is fluent and technically precise but above all I think it has a powerful emotional energy resulting in very convincing performances.

The piece I have chosen for this post is Raag Jog. As the name implies, the piece is a raga (‘raag’ being the Indian term) which, for those of us (like me) unfamiliar with Indian music, is a type of short melody based on particular notes on an ascending and descending scale, the notes sometimes differing when switching direction.

Ragas invariably reflect particular moods or times of day and are subject to extensive improvisation. This particular raga is a lively upbeat piece intended to be played late in the evening with the aim, according to one commentator, of ‘conjur[ing] up the idea of enchantment’.  There is a video of Kulkarni’s performance of the piece at the Barbican in London as part of the 2018 Darbar Festival where he was accompanied by the accomplished tabla player, Ojas Adhiya.

The raga is in three parts.  The first opens with a positive and insistent motif which is then repeated several times in a slightly varied and ornamented form before ending on the final repeat.  With its repetitive quality and predominantly major tonality this part has a lot in common with modern minimalist music although not of course derived from it in any way.

The second and longest part offers more contrast and opens with a series of vibrating passages leading to swirling climaxes enhanced by the energetic tabla playing.  This then leads to a dialogue between the two instruments whereby the tabla answers the bansuri by mimicking its rhythms before the part ends on a quiet, sustained note on the bansuri.

Part three picks up the pace again and is dominated by a series of fast upward passages in the higher register ending with a flourish on one such.  Overall I think it’s an exciting, invigorating and very accessible piece, superbly played on the 2018 video.

By way of contrast, I should also mention the album that Kulkarni issued in 2008, entitled Draupadi – Five Styles of Bansuri Vaadam, which features five very quiet and very beautiful pieces full of depth and contemplation.  The album is available on Spotify and is well worth a listen.

Andrew Glynne

Andrew Glynne

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