Roopa Panesar Brings Her Concise, Purposeful, Individualistic Sitar Virtuosity to Lincoln Center Next Week

by delarue

Roopa Panesar is one of the most highly regarded rising stars of Indian classical music. While she isn’t personally responsible for breaking the gender barrier as a sitar player, male sitarists still outnumber women by a wide margin. Panesar is bringing her dynamic technique and unselfconsciously vivid, intense solos to the atrium space at Lincoln Center on Broadway just north of 62nd St. on Sept 7 at 7:30 PM to inaugurate this season’s new program of artists taking traditional raga sounds to unexpected places. Because this is a free show, the earlier you get there, the better your chances of getting a seat.

An early look at her forthcoming second album reveals all sorts of  treats. One of Panesar’s signature traits that jumps out at you from the first few precise, propulsive phrases from her sitar is how tersely she plays. If Panesar likes to indulge audiences in long, expansive nocturnes to lull everybody into a trance state, that isn’t evident here. She doesn’t even open this in a traditional vein with an alap (improvisation). Right from the start of the first suite, Ramdas Ji, similarly low-key tabla is present.

Panesar’s sparse, lingering, deep-sky searching motives and deliciously subtle echo phrasing shift to a brisk, more insistent, series of precise, crescendoing cadenzas: again, she holds back from ecstatically shivery bent-note intensity until she really wants to drive a point home.

The next-to-last section brings the initial brooding mode into close, pensive, vividly desolate focus, then the rhythm comes in and Panesar veers offcenter for a few bars: the effect is subtle but stunning. Then she takes the theme out with a vengeance.

Raga Gujri Todi begins more tenderly. Panesar blending a wide-angle vibrato into her precise phrases. As the music rises, it’s here that she finally begins to build a hypnotically kinetic backdrop, tabla eventually taking over the fast trance beat, the two instruments winding it up with a triumph that’s so catchy it’s almost a singalong.

If JD Allen’s concise, hard-hitting three-minute tunes can be called jukebox jazz, this is jukebox raga: no wasted notes and one catchy riff after another. Much of Panesar’s work is also characterized by another, more subtle innovation: live, she plays with both south Indian tabla and the louder, boomier north Indian mridangam, two drums rarely found together in this context.

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