Michael Harrison performs Indian ragas and piano and tabla compositions with Nitin Mitta


On Thursday, August 12, 2021 at 8:30 p.m. ET, composer, pianist and singer Michael Harrison will perform his first performance of traditional Indian classical music, which he adapted for piano with tabla accompaniment, presented by Drive East by Navatman.

The concert will be offered both in person at the La Mama Experimental Theater Club (66 E. 4th St.) for a fully vaccinated audience, as well as live online with video available for 24 hours after the performance. The famous tabla player Nitin Mitta will accompany Harrison. Harrison will also perform his own original compositions based on the traditional ragas (melodic archetypes) and talas (rhythmic cycles) of Indian classical music.

Although this is his first performance as a piano soloist in an Indian classical concert, Michael Harrison has played Indian classical music for decades as a vocal accompanist (and sometimes piano) with his gurus from Indian music Ustad Mashkoor Ali Khan and Terry Riley. His piano works, like the Apocalypse, have also incorporated materials and structures from Indian classical music, but never so directly and for an entire program.

Harrison’s concert on August 12 will include the live premiere of his piece Etude in Raga Bhimpalasi, which is featured on his new album Seven Sacred Names (Cantaloupe Music). Seven Sacred Names was in the top ten albums on the Billboard Classical Chart when it was released; The New Yorker described the album as “music of positively intoxicating beauty.” As the title suggests, Etude in Raga Bhimpalasi is a virtuoso piano study based on Raga Bhimpalasi (a late afternoon raga with a scale similar to Dorian mode) in a slow rhythmic cycle of 10 known beats. under the name of Jhaptaal. Harrison says, “Raga is almost always a single melodic line, and with the piano I create harmonic and polyphonic textures while retaining the guiding lines and vibe of Raga Bhimpalasi. The work presents a slow 4 against 5 polyrhythm.

By adapting traditional Indian classical music for the piano, Harrison explores new ways of incorporating the left hand for the piano, which mimics and enhances the sounds of the tanpura (drone) and tabla. Harrison is also a pioneer in his approach to harmonizing ragas, which is a new development for what has otherwise remained a monophonic tradition for centuries.

Harrison tunes the piano in its own version of intonation just to get the correct microtonal pitches and to maximize harmonic beauty and resonance. He is possibly the only performer in the world to use just custom tuning, which beautifully adapts Indian classical music to the piano. Although the piano has been used in Bollywood film scores and fusion, there are very few musicians playing Indian classical music on the piano. Harrison’s mentor, Terry Riley, sometimes does.

About Michael Harrison: Composer / pianist Michael Harrison (referred to as “An American Maverick” by Philip Glass) is one of the few musicians with equal training and immersion in Western classical music and Indian classical music . His music forges a new approach to composition through chords and structures that extend the old concept of right intonation, a form of pure chord constructed from musical intervals of perfect mathematical proportions.

Harrison creates dedicated tuning systems for many of his works. He also pioneered a structural approach to composition in which the proportions of harmonic relationships organically determine other musical elements such as pitch, duration and dynamics. He seeks expressions of universality through the physics of sound – music that brings about a state of focused listening as a meditative and even psychotropic experience.

Michael Harrison’s music has been performed at BAM’s Next Wave Festival, Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, the Muziekgebouw, Park Avenue Armory, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, MoMA, the Louvre, Center Pompidou, MASS MoCA, Big Ears Festival, Spoleto Festival USA, the United Nations, the Klavier Festival Ruhr and the Sundance Film Festival. A member of the Guggenheim, Harrison has been commissioned by Grammy-winning vocal group Roomful of Teeth, Alarm Will Sound, Maya Beiser, Cello Octet Amsterdam, Del Sol String Quartet and Contemporaneous.

Her one-night work Revelation, for piano in its own chord system, was named one of the best classical recordings of 2007 by the New York Times, the Boston Globe and Time Out New York, and was called “Possibly the brightest and most original extended composition for solo piano since Frederic Rzewski’s first works three decades ago” by Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Tim Page. Other acclaimed works include his album Time Loops with Maya Beiser (selected for NPR’s Top 10 Classics Albums in 2012) and Just Constellations for Roomful of Teeth, from New Amsterdam (called “glacially beautiful” and “luminous” by Alex Ross in The New Yorker and shortlisted for Top 100 Songs by NPR in 2020 and Best of Contemporary Classic from Bandcamp in 2020).

While still an undergraduate student, Harrison met composer La Monte Young. Soon, Young took him to New York as a protégé, to study Indian composition, performance and classical music. Harrison was the exclusive tuner of Young’s Bösendorfer custom concert grand piano and became the only person other than the composer to perform Young’s six-hour piano, The Well-Tuned Piano. Living in Young’s Tribeca’s loft during this decade of training, Harrison was immersed in the world of music and minimal art. Terry Riley became a close friend and mentor, part of a larger circle that included John Cage, Philip Glass, Laurie Anderson, Walter de Maria, Marian Zazeela and the founders of the Dia Art Foundation (the patrons of the work of Harrison with Young). Most importantly, he became a disciple of Young and Riley’s music guru, Pandit Pran Nath, traveling to India with Pran Nath and Riley for periods of in-depth study and practice.

Harrison’s residences include MacDowell, Yaddo, Camargo, McColl Center, Ucross, Djerassi, Millay, Bogliasco, La Napoule, I-Park, MASS MoCA and the Visiting Artists program of the American Academy in Rome. In addition to the Guggenheim, his awards include an NYSCA / NYFA Fellowship, an Aaron Copland Recording Fellowship, a Foundation Award for Classical Recording, an IBLA Foundation Award, a Residency and Performance at the American Composers Forum at the Havana Contemporary Music Festival and a New Music USA grant. Harrison received his Masters in Composition studying with Reiko Fueting at the Manhattan School of Music. He invented the harmonic piano, “a grand piano that plays 24 notes per octave, documented in the Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments. His music has been recorded on Cantaloupe, New Amsterdam, Innova, New Albion and New World Records.

About Madeline J. Carter

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