Proms North Indian Prom Royal Albert Hall, London

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
Once is a precedent, twice is a tradition: the third Asian Prom in successive years drew a large, hungry crowd to hear one of the superstars of North Indian music, Shivkumar Sharma. Compared to the Indian late-night concert two years ago, they knew when and what to applaud. They still aren't giving the intense feedback that stokes up the ultimate thrills, but it looks as though the cognoscenti - not exactly underprovided in London during the winter - have started to put the Royal Albert Hall dates on their calendar.

For the first half, the great tabla player Shankar Ghosh brought his Calcutta Drum Orchestra on the first leg of a short UK tour. The title sounds like a contradiction in terms, and it is one of those grand, eccentric ideas that seizes on a European phenomenon and totally Indianises it. An array of the subcontinent's percussion spreads across the stage, playing brilliantly scored and invigorating arrangements. Ghosh reassembles the elements of classical Indian rhythm into new patterns. It's like a big band, complete with restless bandleader up front, only more intricate.

One number even threw in a jazz kit but, instead of playing along in the usual style, it had its own pattern, a concise and slightly tongue- in-cheek pop parody, which recurred regularly in the mosaic. This could be the only successful instance of modernism in the classical Indian genres. All the orchestra missed was the sort of freedom and spontaneity that, ironically, used to distinguish Ghosh's own playing. Probably this was down to the short programme - on its last tour the excitement level was higher, and solo breaks brought the house down.

For that, the Prom had to wait until Shivkumar Sharma's tabla player, Anindo Chatterjee, got fired up after midnight. Sharma is the musician who put the spotlight on the santoor, the hammered, cimbalom-like instrument that used to lurk in the Kashmir valley away from the classical centres. He proves it can play a fully extended performance, slow as well as fast, and a generation of young santoor virtuosi has sprung up since. A minutely controlled touch with repeated notes, and ingenious ways of sustaining the santoor's mellow, ringing tone, were the keys to Sharma's melodic flights on Friday. But this was also a percussion duet, with Chatterjee's delicate, introverted playing a good match for his quiet-voiced partner.

The audience's hunger was literal. There wasn't supposed to be an interval, but after nearly an hour came one of the BBC's infamous platform reshuffles and the audience voted with their feet, to find their only option was queueing up for water at the first-aid office. The printed programme also fell short of usual standards, recommending out-of-print books and a poor range of further listening.

Such things add up to remind everybody that most of the world's art music is still marginal to the Proms. Yet for the Western public, "world classical" is at the stage the early music revival had reached shortly before it took off - a field of huge enthusiasms and boundless curiosity, which the classical mandarins steadfastly see as a province of cranks and foreigners. Look at the record catalogues and the concert-hall diaries, though, and the evidence is all there. Musicians and listeners are about to repeat history, and the Proms will just have to catch up.