A World on a String



Featured Project

Sitar Concerto
Premiered by the
Vancouver Symphony Orchestra

The project brought together myself as a composer/sitarist working in the genre of Hindustani Classical music, alongside John Oliver- one of Canada’s leading composers of music for orchestras, chamber ensembles and electroacoustic media. Together we set out to create a composition of approximately 20 minutes in length that integrated each of our strengths in Indian Classical music (Hindustani tradition) and Western contemporary classical music. The work took the form of a sitar concerto in one movement.

A concerto for Indian instrument and orchestra is very rare. There are two famous sitar concertos by Pandit Ravi Shankar (1971 & 1981), and one for sarod by Ustad Amjad Ali Khan (2008). These works tend to leave the orchestra in a supporting role that respectfully creates fairly traditional accompaniments, harmonizations and orchestrations. We wanted to create a more contemporary music where the spatial and temporal dimensions are freed from these traditional ideas and embrace new orchestral writing techniques such as resonance, spectral, and texture-based development of materials.

The final piece, called Pressed for Time, draws on as well as departs from the conventions of Hindustani classical music (the music of Northern India and Pakistan) and Western contemporary orchestral music, Pushing past the idea of ‘setting’ the sitar in either a traditional or avant-garde context, we have tried to merge the best of both, developing the raga in a non-linear way, creating unexpected changes and new ideas that transform the musical materials and form. This new synthetic work plays with the listener’s expectations, whichever of these traditions they prefer or know best.

The work was premiered by the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra on November 5, 2017 as part of the ISCM Festival. British tabla virtuoso, Shahbaz Hussain, joined me to accompany the piece. We now plan to tour the piece with other orchestras across Canada and globally.

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Albums for Sale

Spirit of Tradition & Firefly

“Spirit of Tradition is a joy from start to finish. The highlight, however, is Assani’s two-part rendition of “Raag Darbari”, which begins with the traditional form of the melody before moving into an up-tempo variant composed by Assani’s teacher, Ustad Ashraf Sharif Khan Poonchwala. It’s gorgeously lonely—and, remarkably, the mood gets even darker once the tempo builds.  Coursing over Shahbaz Hussain’s assured tabla-playing, Assani sounds like he’s doing battle against sinister forces, drawing on every resource he has to pull through against shattering odds. His playing is fierce, resolute, and gripping, a hero’s journey condensed into 14 minutes and 42 seconds’ worth of unceasing invention.” 

— Georgia Straight