The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra for presented an altogether off-the-beaten-track work in its concert last week.

Israel Philharmonic Orchestra 311 (photo credit: Reuters)
Israel Philharmonic Orchestra 311
(photo credit: Reuters)
Congratulations are due to the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra for presenting an altogether off-thebeaten- track work in its concert last week, conducted by Zubin Mehta – Ravi Shankar’s Sitar Concerto Nr. 2.
Not only does this work represent the here merely little-known Indian culture, but it is also a refreshingly modernist piece (1980), quite unlike the usually conservative IPO programs, and featuring an instrument normally not encountered in the orchestra repertoire – the sitar (Indian long-necked lute). Besides being an inspired and immensely impressive piece, it is also a cleverly constructed one. The sitar mostly does not play together with the orchestra but in dialogue with it, or joining it only in its softest passages, in order not to let its delicate sound get drowned in the strong orchestral turbulence. The orchestra prominently features percussion instruments in asymmetrical, energetic rhythms, in the traditional Indian music spirit, and ample solo sonorities, providing abundant versatility.
A lengthy flute solo and, later, a violin solo, were particularly enchanting.
Melodies were mostly in non- Western tonalities, representing the work’s Oriental roots. The sitar solo proceeds largely in an improvisational manner, faithful to the traditional style.
Soloist Anoushka Shankar, the composer’s daughter, captivated the audience by uncommonly subtle microtonal nuances and also, toward the end of the third and fourth movements, by displaying formidable virtuosic skill. At the end, the audience even forgot its stereotype mechanical rhythmic clapping custom, and broke out in genuinely spontaneous, enthusiastic applause.
As a compensation for the conservative IPO audience, the concert concluded with a well-rehearsed, standard performance of Dvorak’s Symphony Nr. 7.