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.