EX CATHEDRA | Unending Love Weekenders: South Asian and European musical exchange and fusion

We’re very excited to present a mini-festival exploring South Asian and European musical exchange and fusion, with outstanding performers from both musical traditions.

Presented by Ex Cathedra as part of Commonwealth Games Birmingham 2022 Festival, Unending Love Weekenders explores the meeting and melding of European and South Asian music in the 18th and 21st centuries.

Read on, to find out more about the concerts – Calcutta (24 Apr) and The Traveller (1 May) – and our FREE family activity workshops.

And join us, as we welcome a mouth-watering line-up of talented musicians from Milap, Britten Sinfonia, and Ensemble Tempus Fugit, plus soloists Mark Padmore, Philippe Honoré, Vayu Naidu, Debipriya Sircar, Hugh Cutting, Jonathan Mayer & more!

In his programme note, artistic director Jeffrey Skidmore writes:

“It is a great pleasure to welcome you to this project which has been a long time in the making and features many of the artists from our region, the UK and from around the world. What an extraordinary array of talent! I should like to thank all the funders who have made this possible, and particularly Arts Council England. It promises to be a great celebration of local, national and global culture.”

Calcutta (Sun 24 Apr, 7pm)

In the programme note, Ensemble Tempus Fugit’s Katie De La Matter sets the scene:

“For centuries, the music of European colonists and Indian musicians mixed in the streets and soirées of the English port city of Calcutta. By 1780, the city was full of harpsichords and fortepianos, with more arriving by ship each week. But harpsichords in India weren’t only used for European music: jam sessions took place with Indian musicians too. Some Indian songs were transcribed – in one case, into a manuscript for Sophie Plowden, the wife of an East India Company merchant. Plowden and her friend Margaret Fowke invited Indian classical musicians into their sitting rooms, and joined in at the harpsichord.”

Calcutta reimagines this musical exchange through a love story, between Indian Classical singer Debipriya Sircar and (Ferrier Prize winner 2021) countertenor Hugh Cutting. Music from Plowden’s collection is heard alongside that of English composers like Henry Purcell, whose music was well-known in Calcutta at this time.

Stage direction is by Thomas Guthrie, including shadow puppetry.

De La Matter continues:

“The context for these cross-cultural forays was colonial, and co-existed with oppression. Plowden and Fowkes held the same privileged Enlightenment view that inspired other white Europeans to collect folk songs elsewhere.” However, she suggests “a sense of respect and mutual curiosity would surely have been necessary for European and Indian musicians to successfully fuse two such complex traditions for long enough to fill Plowden’s manuscript with music”.

Tickets priced £20 for adults, £8 for students and under 18s are available here.

The Traveller (Sun 1 May, 4pm)

The second performance in this mini festival brings us into the 21st century with music by Alec Roth and Roxanna Panufnik.

The main work is titled The Traveller, a collaboration between Roth and the best-selling author Vikram Seth (A Suitable Boy, An Equal Music).

Alongside 6 new poems, Seth draws from some 25 classic Indian texts from a rich variety of traditions and languages, including Sanskrit, Pali, Hindi, Urdu, Bengali, and Tamil to fashion a piece that tells of the ages of life – from Unborn through Child, Youth, Adult etc.

The Traveller will be performed by Ex Cathedra, Britten Sinfonia, tenor Mark Padmore, violinist Philippe Honoré, narrator Vayu Naidu, and conducted by Jeffrey Skidmore, with the children’s choir sung by Ex Cathedra’s Junior Academy of Vocal Music and pupils from Lordswood Girls’ School.

Alongside The Traveller are two works by Roxanna Panufnik which fuse the sound worlds of choral and South Asian music: Child of Heaven commissioned by Ex Cathedra setting a text about Dawn from the Rig Veda; and Unending Love, which gives the festival its overall name. In both works, Panufnik embraces the modes and rhythms of Indian Classical music. 

Unending Love, setting Tagore’s famous poem, is for choir, Carnatic singer, Indian violins, tabla, sitar and veena, and ends with an ecstatic, almost Bollywood-esque climax. It is performed by Ex Cathedra and musicians from Milap, the Indian arts and culture company based in Liverpool, who took part in the first performance of the work.

Tickets, priced £13 to £43, are available here.

Audiences can hear Roxanna Panufnik talk about her approach to melding musical styles in her pre-concert conversation with Milap’s Alok Nayak, at 2.45pm on Sunday 1 May.

FREE Family Activities

On the subject of Bollywood tunes, Ex Cathedra’s project assistant and Royal Birmingham Conservatoire graduate Amrit Sohal will deliver one of the Free Family Activities at the CBSO Centre (Sunday 24 April, 2.15pm-5.45pm). In this session, families will create vocal and rhythmic music inspired by Bollywood films.

There will also be a session exploring Indian rhythms and drumming styles with Milap’s internationally-acclaimed percussionist Prathap Ramachandra.  And Ex Cathedra’s very own highly-acclaimed vocal tutors will facilitate sessions inviting people to share their own family and traditional songs.

No prior musical experience is necessary for any of these sessions. Children of all ages, parents and grandparents are invited to just drop in – and have fun!

More details and the timetable can be found here.

These free family activities sessions form part of a Creative City project generously supported by Birmingham City Council.