Indian pianist/composer Utsav Lal, often known as the ‘Raga Pianist’, is recognised as one of the most talented musicians of his generation. Choosing to perform ragas on the piano, an instrument that has traditionally been considered unsuitable for Indian classical music, Utsav’s creative musical genius, unfailing clarity of technique and rhythmic virtuosity has led him to an impressive career performing at leading global venues like Carnegie Hall (NYC), Southbank Centre (London), The Kennedy Centre (DC).
From his debut album Piano Moods of Indian Ragas on Times Music (2008), Utsav has come a long way with six subsequent releases that include a historic solo recording on the world’s first ever Fluid Piano, The Fluid Piano Album (2016).
Utsav recently released Visangati his seventh record of pure Indian Classical music on piano. “Visangati means quite a few things all at the same time, but actually it’s a Hindi-Sanskrit word, in English it literally means Anomaly, a deviation from the norm. Visangati as a word reflects an integral poly-semantic and ambiguous quality. It sometimes also hints at absurdity or illogicality. When attempting to play Indian classical music on the piano, it is impossible to not acknowledge the contradictions at play in this endeavour,” says 28-year-old Utsav in a telephonic chat from New York where he’s based.
The first three tracks in this record are dedicated to exploring the beautiful Raga Lalit. This is followed by two tracks where Utsav is joined on tabla by the renowned Nitin Mitta (of Vijay Iyer’s “Tirtha” trio). The rhythmic incisiveness of Nitin joins hands with the inspirational improvisations of Utsav to create a meaningful acoustic dialogue and Raga Lalit is presented with two beautiful compositions set to a Vilambit Teental (16-beat-cycle) and a Drut Ektaal (12-beats-cycle).
The record includes a track on the romantic Raga Bihag composition Lat uljhi suljha ja re balam, which brings forth how much Khayal and Thumri styles have been an inspiration for Utsav and how particular care has been given to translating the decay and nuance of tone of the instrument in his playing. He adds, “The last two tracks are an original rendition of two well-known traditional songs Neer Bharan Kaise Jaon (Shubha Mudgal) and Yaad Piya Ki Aayi from the Bollywood film Prahaar.”
Both compositions are very clearly based on ragas, but are explored by Utsav with much leniency in form and development reflecting his musical training at Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and New England Conservatory of Music.
Originally from Gurgaon, Haryana, Utsav grew up in Dublin, Ireland, and was part of an alternative rock band while in school. Utsav, who has played many shows in India and abroad, leaves you mesmerised with his repertoire of music compelling many to think how the piano, which is considered the backbone of western music can be used for Indian raags.