I went for this concert yesterday – London Philharmonic Orchestra performing some of A R Rahman’s “best-known” works.
Writing about the concert last evening is hard. I knew that this was not going to be a traditional filmy fare. But my expectations had gone up because I had been to a wonderful concert at the same venue in October last year that featured the City of Birmingham Orchestra and Rahat Fateh Ali Khan. I can’t find any official videos anywhere – but a member of the audience filmed some.
The crowd connected instantly. Yes, there were moments when you felt that the very constructed approach the orchestra took actually stopped Rahat from improvising, but overall, it was a joyous concert. The second half really picked up.
Contrast this to the AR Rahman concert where most of the material was meant for a very different audience. The concert was sold to the desis by plastering AR Rahman’s name and stating that the orchestra would play some of his best-known numbers. Except most of the material felt alien and new. There was some from that Chinese film, the broadway show and a few other numbers. The familiar stuff was just a themes – Roja, Bombay, Swades and Taal. And the audience visibly perked up during those numbers.
It’s not to say that there isn’t any room for anything different, or that an Indian audience is incapable of digesting an orchestral performance. Far from it. But people bought tickets expecting more familiar tunes.
The unfamiliar tunes didn’t sound particularly fantastic either. Slightly pale in comparison to the rich harmonies of the usual Rahman fare. The choir did alright, but there was some woman who sang (and sounded like she was wailing) in a few pieces. Contrast this to some brilliant stuff Ilayaraja has done – like How to Name It, which uses an orchestra as well, but retains Ilayaraja’s signature style. Doesn’t alienate, and potentially draws an audience unused to orchestral music into its fold.
The London Philharmonic Orchestra does brilliant interpretations. For instance, this one is of http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gffPKepztS8 Comfortably Numb by Pink Floyd. But the interpretation yesterday felt watery. Two and a half hours into the concert I left. A big part of me felt like this was for the phantom elite firang to make Rahman more acceptable to the ‘Western World’ – or whatever that means.
More than just disappointed, I was bored. Which is just sad.