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Concerto for Four Soloists (NSO Commission)

About the Work

Quick Look Composer: Zakir Hussain
Program note originally written for the following performance:
National Symphony Orchestra: Christoph Eschenbach, conductor / Zakir Hussain, tabla / Kelley O'Connor, mezzo-soprano Mar. 3 - 5, 2011
© Paul Horsley

Tabla virtuoso, composer, percussionist and music producer, Zakir Hussain was born into a family of musicians that included his father, tabla master Allarakha — who accompanied sitarist Ravi Shankar in the 1960s — and brothers Taufiq and Fazal Qureshi. As a percussionist, tabla player and composer Hussain has collaborated with such artists as George Harrison, John McLaughlin, the Grateful Dead's Mickey Hart, Ravi Shankar, L. Shankar, Joe Henderson, Van Morrison, Béla Fleck, Edgar Meyer, Mark Morris and Rennie Harris. He has been a frequent participant in Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Project, has composed film scores (Heat and Dust, The Mystic Masseur) and has played tabla on a number of film soundtracks (including that for Apocalypse Now). His huge discography numbers more than 50 albums.

His 1992 Planet Drum produced with Mickey Hart received the first-ever Grammy Award for Best World Music Album. In 2009 his Global Drum Project received a Grammy for Best Contemporary World Music Album. He was named an Old Dominion Fellow at Princeton University, where he was a visiting professor in 2005-2006. Among his collaborations with Fleck and Meyer is a triple concerto The Melody of Rhythm, which received its premiere by the Nashville Symphony and conductor Leonard Slatkin (formerly the NSO's Music Director) in 2006; it was recorded by the Detroit Symphony on Koch Records. In April 2009, Hussain's artistry was honored with four sold-out and widely acclaimed concerts on Carnegie Hall's Perspectives series.

The composer has written the following about his new Concerto for Four Soloists:

We are not that different from each other, and the ecstasy of discovering the sameness in ourselves is what this piece is all about. We claim to have our own personal route to creativity but, when we arrive at a destination or realization, we find that others have also reached the same place. This journey could be undertaken through art, religion or devotion to any path. If you look hard enough and deep enough, you can see that it was all cooked in the same kitchen.
An Islamic Sufi, a Hindu priest and a Biblical preacher embark on a journey together, convinced that they have nothing in common. As the journey unfolds and thoughts are shared, they realize with boundless joy that they can be friends and that their music and way of life bind them together in the strength of oneness. Their common experience of the human condition, from frailty and fear to exaltation and hope, are expressed, as they are sustained by the gifts of our natural world, to arrive at this oneness, beyond appearances and duality.
I feel privileged to be able to use the considerable musical landscape provided by the NSO and the voices of our esteemed soloists to combine Indian raag and taal along with Sufiyana Qalam and church music to experience the unity emerging from what mankind presumes to be an irreconcilable diversity.

—Zakir Hussain

Sufiyana Qalam is devotional music of the Muslim mystics known as Sufis.

Raag is a melodic scheme based on traditionally accepted rules which, in actual performance, are improvised upon, expanded and embellished, drawing out possibilities inherent in the melodic structure. It is characterized by a definite scale of notes, an order of sequence of these notes with a permitted manner of ascent and descent in the scale with certain notes finding emphasis to varying degrees. Use of register and of microtones and ornamentation are also specific to each raag. In India, the following is taught and often heard: "Rang gyati iti raag," meaning "that which colors the mind is a raag".  Therefore, the unity of the individual and specific atmosphere, character and mood created by a raag is of utmost importance and is guided by the emotion, as well as skill, of the performing musician.

Taal is the ancient, traditional system of rhythm in Indian music. Specifically, a taal is a cyclical rhythm pattern of a fixed number of beats.

The following terms are used in the last page of the artist bios:

Ghazal is a poetic form consisting of rhyming couplets and a refrain, with each line sharing the same meter. A ghazal may be understood as a poetic expression of both the pain of loss or separation and the beauty of love in spite of that pain. The form is ancient, originating in sixth century Arabic verse. It is derived from the Arabian panegyric qasida (a lyric poetic form). The structural requirements of the ghazal are similar in stringency to those of the Petrarchan sonnet. In its style and content it is a genre which has proved capable of an extraordinary variety of expression around its central themes of love and separation. It is one of the principal poetic forms which the Indo-Perso-Arabic civilization offered to the eastern Islamic world.

Veena is a plucked stringed instrument used mostly in Carnatic Indian classical music. There are several variations of the veena, which in its South Indian form is a member of the lute family. One who plays the veena is referred to as a vainika.