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PRS New Music Biennial 2022 commission for Roopa Panesar

Opera North has announced a new commission from sitarist Roopa Panesar for PRS Foundation and Southbank Centre’s New Music Biennial 2022.

The Crossing, Roopa’s new work in collaboration with pianist Al MacSween, with sound design by producer and musician Camilo Tirado, will be performed at two celebration weekends: in Coventry (22 – 24 April) as part of Coventry UK City of Culture and at London’s Southbank Centre from 1 – 3 July, with a special performance at the Howard Assembly Room to follow.

One of the UK’s foremost sitarists, Roopa Panesar grew up in Leicester and took up the instrument at the age of seven, training in the Hindustani classical tradition with Dharambir Singh MBE. She released her debut album Khoj in 2011, and has toured extensively in the Europe, the USA and India. Always maintaining her deep roots in South Asian music, she has collaborated with musicians and ensembles from jazz, western classical and contemporary music ranging from the Belgian Symphony Orchestra to Talvin Singh.

This year’s Biennial invites composers to explore the joy, excitement and transformations that music can effect as we confront the challenges of our lives. Describing The Crossing as “a movement from loss to renewal”, Roopa hopes that it will offer a space in which to contemplate and respond to music after the griefs and hardships of the last two years.

“We can’t get away from it”, she says. “Everybody – artists and audience – has changed because of it. Now that we’re able to come together again, we want to acknowledge that, and open a space for exchange between our instruments and the audience.” Largely improvised, The Crossing is formed by the weaving of lines on Roopa’s sitar and the piano of her collaborator, Al MacSween, within the structures of Indian classical raagas – melodic frameworks each associated with a particular time of day, a mood or an atmosphere.

An alumnus of Leeds College of Music (now Leeds Conservatoire), Al boasts an impressively wide-ranging CV, from his group Kefaya’s collaboration with Afghan folk singer Elaha Soroor, to his mastery of Afro-Cuban and West-African music. Immersing himself in Indian improvisation during his studies in Leeds, he began making annual trips to the country. “Al’s unique background in jazz and Indian classical music means that he can authentically complement what I play on the sitar – and I’m excited about following the directions in which he’ll take the music, too”, Roopa says.

As the Biennial celebrates a decade of bringing new music from all genres to its interactive, intimate and free pop-up platforms, Roopa is looking back to Indian tradition to find new possibilities for the festival’s format.

“The idea of an exchange between performers and audience is key to The Crossing, and that’s inspired by baithak concerts”, she explains. “This is the usual way that Hindustani music is performed, with the audience in close proximity to the players and reacting, sometimes audibly, to the music as they hear it. We’re hoping to recreate that atmosphere in western concert halls: all of us in the same space, feeling the music in the same way, and healing”.

The Crossing is an amazing opportunity to produce some music that reflects my journey so far. It feels like a very poignant time to be working on something like this, and I’m looking forward to drawing on Al’s fantastic collaborative powers.”

For more information and to book tickets for the performances visit

PRS New Music Biennial 2022

The Crossing is one of ten new commissions for the PRS New Music Biennial 2022, alongside works by artists including Afrodeutsche, Coby Sey, Yazz Ahmed and Martin Green. Ten works selected from past years will also be performed. The New Music Biennial will be broadcast across BBC Radio 3 and pieces will be available through NMC Recordings following the festivals.

To ensure the New Music Biennial can be experienced by all, the Southbank Centre will also be hosting a range of free-to-attend public events which will be announced closer to the summer.

New Music Biennial 2022 is presented by the PRS Foundation in partnership with Coventry UK City of Culture, BBC Radio 3 and NMC Recordings with support from Arts Council of England, Arts Council of Northern Ireland and Paul Hamlyn Foundation.


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