Audio: Ravi Shankar

People of a certain age, including your scribe, remember when virtuoso sitarist Ravi Shankar became famous in the 1960s, celebrated especially among the young. It seemed to me that most households had, along with the records of Herb Alpert, some Ravi Shankar in their collection.

Here’s Nicolas Slonimsky on Shankar:

“As a consequence of the growing infatuation with Oriental arts in Western countries, he suddenly became popular, and his concerts were greeted with reverential awe by youthful multitudes. This popularity increased a thousandfold when the Beatles went to him to receive the revelation of Eastern musical wisdom, thus placing him on the pedestal usually reserved for untutored guitar strummers.”

The album above was released in 1968. You’ll hear Shankar discussing and demonstrating some of the elements of Indian music and also performing pieces. I have to admit, it remains compelling after all these years.

Pacific Symphony plays music by Shankar and Philip Glass (a disciple), including Shankar’s Sitar Concerto No. 3, April 12-14.

Here’s a short clip of Shankar teaching George Harrison how to play the sitar:

Expanding your repertoire: ‘Sensemaya’ by Revueltas

Silvestre Revueltas (1899-1940) was one of the most remarkable Mexican composers of the 20th century. His music combines modernist, folkloric and primitivist elements and is notable for its vitality and vibrancy. His most famous work is “Sensemay√°,” inspired by a Cuban poem of the same name about an Afro-Cuban religious ritual involving the sacrifice of a snake.

Unusually, the piece is mostly in 7/8 meter, which causes that skip in the beat at the bar lines.

In this recording from 1962, Leonard Bernstein conducts the New York Philharmonic.

Orchestration by Ravel

I’ve always loved the way this piece — the “Habanera” from “Rhapsodie espagnole” — is orchestrated, the whole thing, but particularly the aromatic chord change from minor to major starting at the one minute mark in this recording and repeated at the end.

Mussorgsky: ‘Pictures at an Exhibition’ sans Ravel

A good way to prepare for this week’s performances by Carl St.Clair and Pacific Symphony of Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” in Ravel’s incomparable orchestration is to hear the piece in its original version, for solo piano.

Here’s Alice Sara Ott playing it live.

Tickets for this week’s performances are here.

Neglected symphony: Wilhelm Peterson-Berger Symphony No. 5

I hadn’t even heard of this composer before a conductor friend suggested I listen to this piece, the Symphony No. 5 by Wilhelm Peterson-Berger (1867-1942). Peterson-Berger was a Swedish composer and music critic who was an anti-modernist. The Symphony No. 5, written in 1932-33, is so conservative, in fact, that one could consider it almost backward. The problem is that it’s also interesting, beautiful and accomplished. See what you think.

Michail Jurowski conducts the Norrköping Symphony Orchestra.

Hear another neglected Swedish symphony by clicking here.

To hear more of my series, click on the “neglected symphonies” tag below this post.

Mussorgsky: ‘Night on Bald Mountain,’ original version

Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky was born on this date (Old Style) in 1839.

Here’s the seldom-heard original version of his “Night on Bald Mountain.” The work is most familiar in a rather radical arrangement made by Rimsky-Korsakov. In many ways, what Rimsky-Korsakov did is an improvement. But this original version, though messy in details and in form, has a certain primitive grit, charm and spirit.

Claudio Abbado conducts the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra.