Composers Edition are honoured to be working with the estate of the internationally renowned Indian-British composer Naresh Sohal (1939 – 2018), making available a wide range of hitherto unpublished works for everything from solo violin to full symphony orchestra. Feted by the likes of Zubin Mehta and Andrew Davis, many of his later works remain under-performed and ripe for discovery by younger generations of performers. Sohal’s longtime partner and widow the writer Janet Swinney here outlines the composer and his oeuvre:-
Naresh’s musical history was an extraordinary one. He had already shown musical talent when he was growing up in Punjab, learning popular songs by ear from the radio and then playing them on the harmonica for his fellow students at DAV college.
But it was hearing Beethoven’s ‘Eroica’ symphony on the radio that made him realise the depth of emotional charge and the multi-layered aural experience that could be delivered by the symphony orchestra. This was in stark contrast to Indian classical music where the development is entirely linear.
Once in the UK, it wasn’t long before he was writing large-scale orchestral works and receiving acclaim for the colourful and idiosyncratic sound worlds he was creating. During his lifetime, his works were performed by world-class orchestras and artists outside the UK as well as within. He had eight BBC commissions, two of which were for large Prom pieces.
Naresh’s other interest was the existential quest to find answers to the questions: ‘Who am I? What am I doing here? and ‘What will we all become?’ He never lost sight of the philosophical insights expressed in the Vedas and was drawn to poets, both western and eastern, with similar concerns. He had a particular affinity with the work of the Nobel laureate, Rabindranath Tagore which is reflected in his chamber music as well as his orchestral output. Many of his works exploring these universal themes have the power to reach a wide range of audiences whatever their cultural heritage.
Naresh resisted all efforts to categorise him as a composer notable only because of his ethnic minority origin. He wanted his work to stand on its own merit. But he certainly serves as a role model and an inspiration for young people from any unorthodox background who aspire to express themselves through the medium of music. It is vital that we don’t lose sight of his legacy.
Called ‘the Schubert of our time’ by friend and pianist Alberto Portugheis, Sohal was no respecter of cultural boundaries, creating an extensive body of work that effortlessly transcends genre and attracting the highest calibre of performers from around the world. Our first selection of works include a representative range of compositions: several solo works (including for harmonica), two of his Rabindranath Tagore settings for soprano and solo instrumentalist, four of his string quartets, a viola concerto commissioned for Rivka Golani and the BBC Proms orchestral commission The Cosmic Dance.
We look forward to working with Swinney to bring you many more of this extraordinary composer’s scores and performance sets for the first time over the coming months.
‘Through my reading, I discovered how Indian sages had explained the phenomenon of Creation. And then, because of my interest in Physics, the Big Bang Theory caught my attention. In some ways these accounts, drawn from two very different traditions, are remarkably similar, but there are important respects in which they differ. This work is my own musical account of the phenomenon of Creation. It is influenced sometimes by one perspective and sometimes by the other.’ Naresh Sohal
Commissioned by the BBC for 2013 Proms. First performance 2nd August 2013, by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra conducted by Peter Oundijan, at the Royal Albert Hall, London.
Tags: Alberto Portugheis, Ananda Sukarlan, Andrew Davis, BBC Proms, Charles Ramirez, Concerto for viola and orchestra, Cristina Anghelescu, Dante Quartet, Jia-yi He, Julian Gallant, naresh sohal, Patricia Rozario, Peter Oundijian, Poemts of Tagore, Prayer, Rabindranath Tagore, Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Rubin Metha, Russian Chamber Orchestra, Sally Silver, Shades VI, Shades VIII, String Quartet, The Cosmic Dance, Wigmore Hall