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The Telegraph

Anoushka Shankar, Royal Festival Hall, review: an unexpectedly emotional return to the South Bank

In April 2020, Anoushka Shankar was due to host a star-studded live performance at London’s Royal Festival Hall to mark the centenary of the delivery of her father, the sitar legend Ravi. She would have been joined by the British musician and composer Nitin Sawhney, George Harrison’s widow Olivia, and a number of Indian classical musicians. The live performance would even have seen Shankar carry out on stage along with her half-sister, the singer Norah Jones, for the primary time. Covid-19 put paid to that present, which has been pushed again to 2022, but it surely was solely becoming that 39-year-old Shankar, a lauded and breathtaking sitarist in her personal proper, was at the very least in a position to carry out on the Southbank Centre’s reopening weekend. Despite the Magaluf vibes of the sun-drenched hordes outdoors the Royal Festival Hall, life was extra sedate inside. The bars remained closed, and social-distancing measures meant ranks of empty seats between ticket-holders. But inside its confines, this live performance – which was additionally live-streamed – burst with expression and humanity. The stage was set for optimum environment: beneath delicate mild and swirling dry ice, a low dais and decorative rug had been surrounded by a bewildering array of potted vegetation. When Shankar herself appeared, her toes naked beneath a voluminous tiered skirt, she skipped for pleasure. “My heart’s beating so fast. You’re my first audience for 15 months. I’ll never take this for granted again.” As effectively as being an exemplary sitar participant, Ravi Shankar was fêted for fusing Eastern and Western musical traditions again within the Sixties. His daughter’s music is extra nuanced than that: it fuses each up to date and classical buildings and digital and acoustic textures, with the sitar as its spine. Traditional Indian ragas (melodic frameworks) are in proof, however there are parts of Radiohead, Philip Glass and Joni Mitchell too. It’s shape-shifting and brilliantly footloose. The live performance revolved round songs from final 12 months’s EP Love Letters, a devastating break-up album written by Shankar after her divorce from Atonement director Joe Wright. It’s a snapshot of a interval of profound shocks and heartache. In the identical month that they introduced their separation, Wright was seen in public with The Girl on the Train actress Haley Bennett. The songs had been delivered right here of their rawest type. The ghostly ‘Bright Eyes’ was sung by the 37-year-old English singer-songwriter Emmy the Great. Although Wright isn’t talked about within the track, it incorporates the lyrics: “Does she feel younger than me as you’re lying in your bed? / Does she feel younger than me or is that in my head?” The track ended with the highly effective line: “But most importantly, do you call her Bright Eyes too?” But if the Love Letters songs documented disappointment and confusion, Shankar’s new tracks instructed a restirring of ardour. New single ‘Opening, Flowering, Drinking’ was about folks you need to hug – “or more than hug,” Shankar stated with a smile. The recorded model is sung by Jones, however vocal duties right here had been carried out by Nicki Wells, who – like Emmy the Great – sat at Shankar’s toes. There was pointed humour as effectively. On ‘Sister Susannah’, Shankar recited a guidelines of saintly necessities from the angle of an unnamed man to his feminine companion (“Be pretty… Ignore my faults”). It was eviscerating. Shankar’s feelings threatened to get the higher of her on the finish, when she talked about how the pandemic is ravishing India. “We’ve all lost a lot,” she stated. And the delight of watching this live performance was virtually overwhelming at occasions. To be served up one thing so wealthy and detailed, so expressive and heartfelt, so thought-about and visually compelling, and after so long, was a deal with. At a time when life stays so perilous for therefore many, it was additionally bittersweet. But the five-minute standing ovation on the finish stated all of it: this was a joyful reminder that life and artwork, in all their knotty complexities, go on.

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