The Prince George Symphony Orchestra continues its 2023-24 mainstage season this Sunday with a unique combination of Indian and European Classical music traditions.
The Concerto for Tabla and Orchestra by Sri-Lankan-born Canadian composer Dinuk Wijeratne has been performed around the world. Mixing the rhythmic structures and complexities of this quintessentially Indian musical instrument with a symphony orchestra leads to a colourful array of style and sound. The composer doesn’t limit himself to orchestral music, either – there is a definite pop flavour to parts of the piece.
“While the origins of the Tabla are somewhat obscure, it is evident that this ‘king’ of Indian percussion instruments has achieved global popularity for the richness of its timbre, and for the virtuosity of a rhythmically complex repertoire that cannot be separated from the instrument itself,” said Wijeratne in his program notes for the piece. “In writing a large-scale work for Tabla and Symphony Orchestra, it is my hope to allow each entity to preserve its own aesthetic... The whole makes for a rather bizarre stew that reflects globalisation, for better or worse!”
Soloist Shawn Mativetsky has devoted his life to the tabla, and is himself a pioneer in bridging the worlds of Western and Indian classical music. “I’m so excited to be in Prince George performing this piece,” said Mativetsky, who is based in Montreal. “It is always a real joy to bring this music, and this wonderful instrument to a new audience – and for people who know the instrument, to hear it in a brand new context.”
It's an artistic challenge for the orchestra, as it always is when the musicians get to work with an artist outside of the western classical tradition, but the orchestra is up for it. “This is a piece I’ve wanted to program for some time,” said PGSO Music Director Michael Hall. “It’s an incredible fusion of musical traditions that’s really quite unique. We love to challenge ourselves as musicians, and working with artists from different artistic backgrounds than our own is always such a treat.”
The program is also part of the orchestra’s initiative to cater to wider audiences. “We are aware that we serve a diverse community here in Prince George,” said PGSO Executive Director Ken Hall. “We’re always looking for ways to stay relevant as an institution, and that means challenging some of the very core ideas about what type of music orchestras play. It's very exciting to be able to present music that is meaningful to the South Asian community that lives here.”
The concert will open with the overture from Mozart’s Abduction from the Seraglio, an earlier example of the influence of eastern traditions by a Western composer. Mozart was drawing from Turkish musical influences. The Austria-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires were warring neighbours throughout Mozart’s lifetime, so his treatment of the material may not have been meant to be flattering. Being Mozart, of course, it is always seamlessly musical.
The symphony will also play an entirely western piece – Beethoven’s first symphony. Written about a decade after Mozart’s opera, while Beethoven was still quite young, it manages to be a textbook Classical symphony while offering some glimpses of the Romanticism of his later works.
The show starts at 2pm on Sunday, November 19 at Vanier Hall. Tickets are available online at PGSO.com or at the door.