India's Musical Export

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Utsav Lal has been performing Indian classical music on the piano for 13 years with incorporations of jazz and western classical into his music. He tells Sean Sequeira about the challenges faced while playing ragas on a piano
You started playing when you were just 6-7 years of age and have performed numerous concerts, how do you feel about being called a child prodigy?

I have always wanted appreciation of my work and my music to be on an absolute scale and not in consideration of my age. Being called a child prodigy is not something that has ever assumed great importance, swayed or influenced my music pursuit. To me the most important thing is to be known & respected based on the depth and sincerity of the music I play.

At a time when most adolescents were deciding between rock and rap, what inspired you to pick classical Indian music?
My fascination for the piano came very early and way before my foray into Indian classical music. In the initial years while I played both western classical and Indian film music on the piano, it was strong classical-based Indian film compositions that first introduced me to the challenge of playing Indian classical music on the piano. As I got deeper into it, the power and challenge of the music completely overwhelmed me. This coupled with the fact that Indian classical piano records were hard to find made me determined to explore this new path. I believe Indian classical music is the most evolved form of musical expression and it’s the genre that gives me the most satisfaction.

How much do you train at the moment? How do you unwind?
There are days when I may have spent over 10 hours on the piano. I spend all my time either playing music, listening to music, researching music on the Internet, reading about great performers and legends, going for concerts or gigs and/or playing with other musicians. I’m an avid reader as well and can’t fall asleep without reading every night.

Have you enjoyed a ‘normal’ childhood?
Pretty much normal. There is pressure sometimes to do the balancing act, but I don’t mind because it’s something that I want to do. I enjoy performing and playing music. Actually, I don’t think my life really is that different. I still go out and have a social life. A lot of my friends are as crazy about music as I am and we have a blast jamming all night or catching gigs/concerts. No regrets at all on anything.

Being an accomplished young musician, how do you hope to encourage the Indian youth of today to appreciate Indian classical music?
My future plans are to take Ragas on Piano to all parts of the world and generate an interest in the Indian youth to explore and enjoy our classical legacy. I would like to present various concerts all over India and reach out to children in school as well. I would love to be a part of SPICMACAY and perform for them.

Do you enjoy performing for Indian audiences more than for foreign audiences?
Both have their own charm and inspire me differently. With western audiences, they love alaap, slow sections of a raga and I feel very relaxed and free to explore the raga with no time frame restrictions. They love to know more about it, so I also explain a bit before a rendition. With Indian audiences, they are so knowledgeable, involved and give so much vocal appreciation during a performance that one is always inspired to experiment and play with the rhythm and focus on the layakari.

Do you have a list of musicians you want to collaborate with in the future?
Too many to name. I am keen to play with Irish musician Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh who plays contemporary folk music on the Hardanger fiddle.
He is one of the most imaginative and fascinating new musicians that I have heard of recently.
The piano and the sitar go really well together and it would be a dream to do a jugalbandi concert with
Shujaat Khanji.

What other instruments do you play, apart from the piano?
I was invited to play the world’s first ever Fluid Piano by its inventor, Geoff Smith in London and that was a fascinating experience. Although similar to a standard piano, it is a totally new instrument. Aside from that, I can play the guitar and a bit of drums.

You were a part of the Irish rock band Little Green Cars. Did you enjoy the experience?
It was a super experience for me. We did a lot of gigs in Ireland including the Electric Picnic and the Oxegen Festival. The band members are amazingly talented musicians and we wrote some excellent music collectively. I found it refreshingly different and fun to be a part of Little Green Cars and a huge learning experience to play in a rock band.

Quick Chords

Favourite music genre: Indian classical music Currently listening to: Bill Frisell, Maria Schneider, Martin Hayes Your favourite performance: Performing on a floating stage on a pond in the middle of a forest for Guru Purnima celebrations at the Maharishi Vedic University in The Netherlands.
Biggest achievement: Playing at the Harivallabh Sangeet Samelan in Dec 2012

 

Volume 2 Issue 11

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