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Arya: Behind the Scenes

As they prepare for the world premiere and tour of Arya, a brand new concerto for sitar and orchestra, we caught up with composer and soloist Jasdeep Singh Degun and conductor Harish Shankar to discover how they’ll bring the beauty and spontaneity of Indian classical raag to the Orchestra of Opera North

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Arya is a Sanskrit word meaning noble, or precious”, explains Jasdeep. “At the beginning of the piece the sitar is introduced to the Orchestra, and we follow the instrument like a diamond, a shining light, through this new world of western music.

“The second movement is faster, and the orchestra starts to take over: it’s new territory for the sitar. Then in the third movement the two worlds come together and find common ground.

Arya isn’t about defying genres, or breaking out of the shackles of my tradition; I’ve never felt like that: Indian classical music is my first love, and that’s what I want to pass on to new audiences. I care about music and I care about people, and Arya is about coming together and playing, whilst maintaining the integrity and the intensity of both disciplines.”

Jasdeep joins the Orchestra of Opera North for the world premiere of Arya at Huddersfield Town Hall on Sunday 23 February, as part of the Kirklees Concert Season. The programme is completed by Köçekçe Suite, an exuberant rarity from Turkish composer Ulvi Cemal Erkin, setting dance tunes and rhythms from throughout his native country for the western orchestra; and three works by Sibelius evoking the dark magic and mystery and Finnish folklore.

March brings three tour dates for the piece: in the Norman splendour of Durham Cathedral on 5 March, at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester (11 March) and at the CBSO Centre, Birmingham on 19 March. These concerts are completed with the Orchestra joined by the full force of the Chorus of Opera North, for a programme of excerpts from the world of opera and classical music including the delicately beautiful Humming Chorus from Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, Purcell’s exquisite Dido’s Lament, and extracts from La traviata and The Magic Flute.

Arya podcast

Jasdeep talks about the influences and inspirations for his Opera North commission, and reveals in detail how he’s woven together the improvised Indian classical tradition with the scale and structures of the symphony orchestra.


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