By Alissa Medina
Playing full-length solos as a 6-year-old prodigy is extremely rare in India—yet Kartik Seshardi homely claims it isn’t a difficult thing being dubbed a “sorcerer,” “child prodigy” and a classical music “virtuoso” with his unique talent of improvisation. He insists it is because he was the first Southern Indian to take on North Western Indian music that granted him to be a household icon in India. Weeks before stepping foot in Riverside, Seshardi finished playing to a crowd of 25,000 at a prestigious music festival in India.
Taking on a musical instrument 4,000 years old may hold tenure over famous classical artists, but it is from the elements of emotion, the raja and the tala, that make the artist truly exceptional. It is a “very cutting edge and forward-looking tradition” that the sitar holds, Seshardi explains. “Certain individuals bring certain abilities to the instrument.” The raja and the tala may come from an individual’s talent of improvisation, to the strings, to “tuning into the pulse of the audience” at the moment.
His raja and tala essentially come from his personal decisions. The sublimity of the music speaks for itself to the audience—which differs greatly from the traditional, scheduled performances of the Western tradition. Seshardi’s improvisation is what makes the music innovative and fresh to his listeners; there is pure originality in every emotion Seshardi emits from the sitar.
Performing at UCR’s most critically acclaimed Barbara and Art Culver Center is enlightening to Seshardi who claims that it is universities that act as a gateway to learning the traditions of classical music: “It’s a precarious time in some sense [for classical music] and we have to work hard that people are expressing concern about this.”
It is at universities and educational forums where he hopes a younger generation will gain an appreciation for the cross-culturally orientated splendor of his performance. Seshardi has taught the tradition of classical music at various universities across the globe as a guest faculty member; from Standford to Yehudi Menuhin School of Music in Bath, U.K. to one of the largest classical music programs at UC San Diego.
Seshardi began as a lead composer for UCSD in 1997. His classroom has grown immensely in the past 15 years starting from 16 students to an emerging 150 this past year. “The work that I do at UCSD is not meant to develop musicians at the level of professionals,” he states. The work that Seshardi shares with his students is meant to evoke an understanding—and essentially an appreciation—for the technique and rigors of classical music.
“The music speaks to a wide variety of people because it’s on the one hand very sublime and has a very deep spiritual quality and on the other exciting, electric, on the spot element which is very exciting.” More and more individuals are becoming interested in classical music, which Seshardi hopes will work to revive its cultural richness and work towards a comprehension of the tradition of the sitar and its many classical elements.
“The world is very small, and with it comes wonderful things,” Seshardi adds. “We have to be guarded that we keep the classical music alive.”
Kartik Seshadri at Culver Center of the Arts, 3834 Main St., Riverside, (951) 827-3755; www.culvercenter.ucr.edu. Jan. 13. 8PM.