Christmas 1965, and I was given the newly released album Rubber Soul by The Beatles. Side One, Track Two, Norwegian Wood and a sound that very few of us had heard before, it was George Harrison playing the sitar, an Indian instrument which he had discovered on his spiritual trips, and I use the word advisedly, to the subcontinent. It was very shortly after that when Brian Jones exposed it to an even bigger audience when he played it on the introduction to Paint it Black by the Rolling Stones and the sitar was suddenly in the mainstream.
Like most innovations the boom levelled out the instrument retaining its popularity but more in the way in which it was designed to be played. Once again it was George Harrison on Within You, Without You on the Sgt. Pepper album who did the honours and pointed the way to Indian masters of the sitar such as Ravi Shankar.
There is now a new breed of players of which Jasdeep Singh Degun is at the forefront. He is a sitarist and composer who has been participating in a residency under Opera North’s Resonance programme for BAME artists. He made such an impression that they commissioned him to compose a piece for sitar and orchestra and this resulting concerto is being premiered on Sunday 23rd February, 2020 at Huddersfield Town Hall as part of its Kirklees Concert Series.
The name of the piece is Arya, a pun on aria which is a melody sung by a single voice. In Sanskrit Arya means ‘noble’, ‘honourable’, ‘precious’ or ‘valuable’ and the pun works as the sitar is the solo ‘voice’ in the piece.
Arya comprises three movements which begin with the introduction of the instrument to the orchestra but as the work progresses the other musicians become more confident and assertive exchanging rapid-fire phrases with the sitar. Ultimately they reach an understanding and find harmony with each other.
The programme will be completed by works from other composers who have taken their inspiration from outside the Western classical canon with his Köçekçe Suite by Ulvi Cemal Erkin from Turkey and three works from the Finn, Sibelius comprising Karelia Suite, The Swan of Tuonela and his Symphony No.7.
After the World Premiere at Huddersfield there will be further performances throughout the spring which will all be conducted by Malaysian-born conductor Harish Shankar.
The full list of dates are:-
4.30pm, Sunday 23rd February, 2020 – Huddersfield Town Hall
7.30pm, Thursday 5th March, 2020 – Durham Cathedral
7.30pm, Wednesday 5th March, 2020 – RNCM, Manchester
7.30pm, Thursday 19th March, 2020 – CBSO Centre, Birmingham
For more details and booking please go to
Feature photograph by Kabilan Raviraj