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Arya world premiere and tour

Award-winning young sitarist and composer Jasdeep Singh Degun will premiere Arya, his new concerto for sitar and orchestra, with the Orchestra of Opera North at Huddersfield Town Hall on 23 February 2020.

In March the piece will tour to Durham, Manchester and Birmingham, with the Chorus of Opera North joining the Orchestra to open the concerts with a programme of excerpts from classic operas.

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A rising star of Indian classical and contemporary music who has already written and arranged music for string quartets, dance pieces and a film soundtrack, Jasdeep was awarded a Sky Academy Scholarship in support of his work on his debut album, Anomaly, under the mentorship of distinguished multi-instrumentalist and producer Nitin Sawhney. Ahead of the release of Anomaly next autumn, Arya will reveal Jasdeep’s skill and imagination in yet another field, that of large-scale orchestral composition.

Commissioned by Opera North, the idea for Arya took root during Jasdeep’s participation in a residency as part of our Resonance programme for BAME artists. Its title plays on the Italian word ‘Aria’, meaning a melody sung by a single voice, represented by the sitar itself in this concerto, and an ancient Indian word with a similar pronunciation. Jasdeep explains: “the name ‘Arya’ in Sanskrit means ‘noble’, ‘honourable’, ‘precious’, or ‘valuable’, and the idea behind the piece is that the sitar is the ‘noble’ and ‘honourable’ vessel which takes the audience on a journey through the three movements.”

In the tradition of the Romantic concerto, the work introduces the sitar and the orchestra as antagonists, staging a series of confrontations between the two that lead to a conversation and an eventual reconciliation. Jasdeep explains:

“The concerto begins with an invocation, introducing the audience to the sound world of the sitar, feeling its way through the new territory of the western orchestra. The sitar is almost finding its feet, and so is the audience. The orchestra is intrigued by this new and unknown instrument.

“As the sitar moves through the piece, the orchestra flexes its muscles and exerts its might; the sitar fights to be heard, and the two trade rapid-fire phrases. Ultimately they reach an understanding and find harmony with one another. There is a certain frivolousness and playfulness in the coming together of the two sound worlds, highlighting the fact that despite their differences, they are bound together by their similarities.”

Harish Shankar, Kapellmeister at the Meininger Staatstheater and Chief Conductor Designate of the Theater Erfurt, Germany

All of the performances will be conducted by Malaysian-born conductor Harish Shankar. At the premiere in Huddersfield, part of the Orchestra of Opera North’s Kirklees Concert Season, the programme will be completed by works from two other composers who took their inspiration from outside the Western classical canon.

A student of Nadia Boulanger, Ulvi Cemal Erkin brought dance tunes and rhythms from throughout his native Turkey into the western symphony orchestra with his Köçekçe Suite (1943); and three works by Sibelius, the joyful Karelia, the transcendent Swan of Tuonela and his final Symphony No. 7, find the composer mining Finnish folklore for his raw material.

The following month brings three tour dates for Arya:

  • Durham Cathedral on Thursday 5 March, in partnership with GemArts
  • Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester on Wednesday 11 March
  • CBSO CentreBirmingham on Thursday 19 March.

These concerts open with the Orchestra joined by the full force of the Chorus of Opera North, with the first half of the programme including the ethereal Humming Chorus from Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, Purcell’s exquisite Dido’s Lament, and extracts from La traviata and The Magic Flute.

Jo Nockels, our Head of Projects, comments:

“In some ways, Arya exemplifies the aims of Opera North’s artistic output beyond our main operatic life. Adventurous, unusual and deeply rooted in collaboration, it comes into being as the culmination of a developing relationship between Opera North and Jasdeep, which began during Resonance in 2017.

“Its journey to completion as a major new work has been a fascinating process of exchange and collaboration, drawing on the expertise of the wonderful Orchestra of Opera North. The involvement of the Chorus in our touring programme represents a further coming together, and the combination of our core repertoire with a ground-breaking new work traverses the astonishing breadth of what we do as a company within a single evening.”

Tickets for the Huddersfield world premiere and tour of Arya are on sale now.


Podcast: Jasdeep Singh Degun on Arya

Jasdeep talks about how he brought Indian classical music to the western symphony orchestra.


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