Monday, 25 November 2013

Anoushka Shankar at Koerner Hall

Handsome Man and I sat in front of the computer a few months back and grabbed tickets to some hot concerts at Koerner Hall, the exceptional Royal Conservatory of Music performance space. This past Saturday night, we were treated to perhaps the FINEST evening of music either of us have ever experienced. 

With third row seats, just slightly to to the left of centre stage, we knew we were in for a treat the moment we sat down. But truth be told, there is no bad seat in the house.
Koerner Hall floating ceiling canopy and acoustic reflector
The acoustics at Koerner Hall are as incredible as the decor. A gorgeous venue meant to treat all the senses.
Handsome Man and I are both huge fans of Anoushka Shankar, daughter of the musical genius Ravi Shankar. We particularly enjoyed her newest album, Traces of You, a musical dedication and catharsis created in the months leading up to and after Ravi's death last year. What we didn't expect was the absolutely exceptional performance of all the musicians on stage, as well as the pure emotion enveloping everyone in attendance. This particular show was the last one of the tour. That always makes for a great concert, a let loose, have fun with it vibe for the musicians that is infective. This particular 'last show' however, had something more. I had no idea what it was, but revelled in it just the same. 

Anoushka was accompanied by Pirashanna Thevarajah on Indian percussion, Sanjeev Shankar on shehnai and tanpura, Ayanna Witter-Johnson on vocals, cello, and keyboards, Danny Keane on cello and keyboards, and Manu Delago on percussion and Hang. Not only were they all masters of their instruments, they were inventive and entertaining. I particularly enjoyed Ayanna and Danny's 'duet' on the piano. They set up by placing what seemed liked music sheets inside the piano (under or between the strings? It was, and is, a mystery to me) which created an ethereal, almost surrealistic sound when Ayanna tickled the ivories, while Danny plucked the inside strings reminiscent of an upright bass. Incredible. Manu was a delight, and I'm sure his name will come up many times over the years, What surprised me most was his professionalism combined with whimsy, most evident when he attacked his drums with such ardent fervor that the sound guy (WISH i knew his name- the mix was the greatest I have ever heard!) had to run out and rescue the falling cymbal, mic and drum! Manu didn't miss a beat but laughed along with everyone else! Pirashanna was mesmerizing to watch, his hands flying so quickly they were a blur. When he and Sanjeev 'rapped' at lightning speed in (I believe) the track Lasya I just couldn't take my eyes off either of them. Sanjeev delighted later with an incredible shenai solo. And of course, Anoushka. Serene in beauty and spirit, she swept us all away with her incredible talent and an emotional journey. Her face often beamed sheer JOY as she watched and listened to her band, yet her musically expressed anger over the horrendous rape and beating death of the young woman on a bus in New Delhi, In Jyoti’s Name , was heart wrenching and powerful. 

This was a truly special night for the band, and it came through in the music, but we were yet to learn it was more than that for Anoushka. After 3 standing ovations (I have issues with standing O's, I believe people are doing them as a matter of course now, rather than for truly deserving performances, but in this instance they were WELL DESERVED!), she came out for one final performance accompanied only by Sanjeev. As they sat cross legged on the dias, Sanjeev with his head lowered, Anoushka picked up the mic and opened her heart. Yes, this was the last show in the tour. It was also her first time in Toronto since she had toured with her late father. They had performed together for the last time on this very stage. Had stayed at the very same hotel. And so Anoushka, with tear laden eyes, played the song they had played together, with such deep emotion that it was impossible to not be carried away. As a daughter who has also lost her beloved Daddy, I cannot begin to describe how touching it was that Anoushka shared this very intimate moment. It was the perfect end to a perfect evening of music. 

On behalf of everyone lucky enough to be at Koerner Hall November 23, 2013, Thank you Anoushka! (and please come back SOON!)

Were you there?  Share your stories in the comment section below