The world première of Nishat Khan’s Sitar Concerto no. 1 “The Gate of the Moon” featured as part of the BBC Proms programme at the Royal Albert Hall on the 12 August 2013. The occasion marked Khan’s third appearance as a soloist at the Proms but was the first time that one of his own compositions has featured. The BBC-commissioned work integrates a sitar concerto with Western orchestration to tell the love story between the mystical “unknown traveller” (sitar) and the princess. David Atherton conducted the BBC National Orchestra of Wales in the performance of “The Gate of the Moon”, which was broadcast live on both BBC Radio 3 and the BBC Asian network.
‘Nishat Khan’s new Sitar Concerto offered an altogether more meditative engagement with India. This sitar legend (just the latest in a dynasty of great musicians in his family) is a familiar face at the Proms, but he has never before appeared as both composer and soloist. The concerto itself follows in the footsteps of Ravi Shankar’s concerto, marrying the textures and techniques of Indian classical music with the instrumentation and symphonic structure of western music.
… a very attractive work, and one animated by the virtuosity of Khan himself as soloist. The work dares to grow slowly, coiling outwards and upwards from a double bass ostinato that undulates through much of the first movement, which accumulates rather than develops its motifs. It’s all mesmerically simple, rocking the listener back and forth until the sitar dances into the fray in a jangle of metallic brilliance.
The second movement is brighter, lighter, picking up on the energy that emerged in the earlier exchanges between solo instruments and the sitar. Dance is dominant here, with gentle rhythmic games keeping our ears uncertain through the patterning and repatterning of the raga-like scalic themes that offer Khan’s most overt colliding of East and West. The groove of this central episode however is cut short by the ferocity of the final movement (a brilliant showcase for BBC NOW’s brass section), which grows to a frenzied cadenza for sitar.’
The Arts Desk (Alexandra Coghlan), 13 August 2013
‘This proved to an interesting hybrid of styles and influences, miraculously held together into a strangely satisfying whole… In three movements, it ruminates on a succession of themes and moods, building to a number of climaxes that were not resolved until the exciting final bars.
The wonderful sound of the sitar was well integrated with the orchestral sound, often seeming to respond to themes which germinated in the orchestra, decorating them with a filigree sound... Moments of sweeter Bollywood-style melody, representing the feminine “Princess” character, were introduced and then disappeared into the flow. The harmonic language was mostly fairly simple and diatonic, with interesting twists arising out of the unfamiliar scales of the ragas.
Nishat Khan himself and the orchestra gave an exemplary account of the concerto. The charismatic presence of Khan on his podium dominated the whole performance and his interactions with the orchestra were fascinating, genuinely touching and exciting by turns.’
Bachtrack (Chris Garlick), 14 August 2013
‘Khan’s playing emerged from and receded into the textures like the mysterious traveller the sitar was meant to represent. Although his performance cohered exactly with the mood and tempo of the orchestra, it also embodied a sense of autonomy from external constraints, not least by the resonance of its sympathetic strings outlasting all other tones, and by the increasingly virtuosic strumming towards the end, compounding the impression of a source of dynamic energy whose origins are unfathomable.’
Classicalsource.com (Curtis Rogers), August 2013
‘The main event of the evening was the world premiere of Nishat Khan’s The Gate of the Moon. Like Ravi Shankar... before him, this Calcutta-born sitar player has been impelled to create a sitar concerto with Western orchestration: with amplification, the two elements can be brought to a sort of parity. Nishat Khan was invited to puff his piece beforehand and did so fulsomely, describing his instrument as ‘the unknown traveller introducing a mystical and positive energy’.
With the BBC National Orchestra of Wales under David Atherton, the sitar gradually induced the Western instruments to speak its strongly-inflected language’
The Independent (Michael Church), 13 August 2013