West Meets East – Yehudi Menuhin / Ravi Shankar

Friendship Developed into Collaboration

Friendship Developed into Collaboration

Friendship Developed into Collaboration

Yehudi Menuhin, the great violinist had been introduced to North Indian classical music (NICM) and Pandit Ravi Shankar, the sitar maestro, when he visited India in 1952. Both became close friends. Menuhin’s genuine curiosity about Indian music led him to explore this genre further. At the 1966 Bath Festival in the UK, Ravi Shankar composed a piece in NICM which was played by Menuhin & himself. It was the first time a major western musician had played Indian classical music on stage with Indian musicians. The performance was so successful that the record label EMI offered to produce a new album for the pair.

West Meets East was released in January 1967 and was quickly acknowledged as a masterpiece in classical music. Ravi Shankar, Yehudi Menuhin, and a group of musicians collaborated across nationality and religion and proved that music is indeed a universal language.

Opens with North Indian Classical Music

The album opens with a piece titled “Prabhati,” a composition by Ravi Shankar based on Raga Gunakali, a morning raga. It is performed by Menuhin on his violin and Ustaad Alla Rakha on the tabla. Ravi Shankar composed this North Indian raga-based music for the violin [He said he never considered the violin a western instrument] and Menuhin accepted the challenge. After a typically slow start, the piece ends with a fine solo by Menuhin accompanied by Alla Rakha’s tabla.

Opens with North Indian Classical Music

The next piece is “Raga Puriya Kalyan,” an afternoon raga. It is an excellent solo sitar performance by Ravi Shankar.

The last piece in this section is “Swara Kakali,” a Ravi Shankar duet based on Raga Tilang, a night raga. It is a catchy melody where both Ravi Shankar and Menuhin perform together along with the tabla and tanpura. It is the best piece on the album and both artists give excellent performances

Closes with a Violin Sonata

Closes with a Violin Sonata

For the Western classical part, Menuhin selected “Sonata for Violin & Piano No. 3 in A Minor, Op.25” by Romanian composer George Enescu, who had been one of Menuhin’s teachers. It is comprised of three segments –

1 – Starts with a melancholy piece – “Moderato Malinconico”

2 – Next is a moderate tempo mystery piece – “Andante sostenuto e misterioso”

3 – It concludes with a lively and vigorous but not too agitated segment – “Allegro con brio”

This sonata was a personal favorite of Yehudi for its Romanian “Gypsy style.” Hephzibah Menuhin, his sister, who was also a renowned musician accompanied him on the piano.

Path Breaking, Accessible

Path Breaking, Accessible

This was not two musicians doing their own thing with their instruments but a real coming together where Yehudi Menuhin played Indian classical music composed by Ravi Shankar. Their mastery over their instruments and the excellent improvisation across musical traditions shine through. The album proved to be a trendsetter, created a curiosity and affection for Indian classical music among western audiences that lasts till date, and that paved the way for many such collaborations among artists across the world.

Trivia

West Meets East was No. 1 on the Billboard best-selling classical LPs chart for a record 18 weeks.

West Meets East won the 1967 Grammy Award for Best Chamber Music performance. Pandit Ravi Shankar was the 1st Asian to win a Grammy.

West Meets East became the fastest-selling LP in the history of Angel Records (July 1968).

Trivia

Ravi Shankar and Yehudi Menuhin continued their collaboration and released two follow-up albums in their West Meets East album series.

Glossary:

Indian Classical Music (ICM) – is the music of the South Asian region. It is based on melody (Raga), Rhythm (Tala), and Meter. It is different from Western/European Classical music. Key differences are that ICM performances are improvised rather than composed, they are mostly Individual performances rather than group performances, and lastly, vocals are the most important with the instruments being accompaniments.

North Indian (Hindustani) Classical Music (NICM – is the classical music of the Northern regions of the Indian subcontinent. It is distinct from South Indian Classical music or Carnatic music.

Pandit – A Maestro in the North Indian Classical music tradition, typically a Hindu.

Ustaad – A Maestro in the North Indian Classical music tradition, typically a Muslim.

Raga – a list of notes that can be used in a particular piece of music. Ragas are associated with moods, seasons, and different times in the day, etc.

Tabla – is a pair of hand drums, the primary percussion instrument in Indian Classical music.

Sitar -is a plucked string instrument used in North Indian Classical music.

Tanpura – is a plucked string instrument that supports another instrument or singer by providing a continuous background sound.

Opus – the sequence or work number assigned to a composer’s musical composition.

Allegro – at a fast, lively tempo.

Andante – moderately slow tempo.

Sonata – a piece of music played by a solo instrument or a group of instruments.

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