Feinberg rolls with the ragas

Jewish-American sitar player Josh Feinberg is moving into new musical territory.

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Josh Feinberg

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When: May 13, 8 p.m.

Where: Main Stage, Surrey Arts Centre, 13750 88th Ave.

Tickets/info: $25 at tickets.surrey.ca

Josh Feinberg is a Jewish-American sitar player carving out his own distinct place in fusing traditional Hindustani and Western musical forms.

A student of the late Maihar gharana Hindustani classical music sitar master Ustad Ali Akbar Khan and his son, sarod player Ustad Aashish Khan, Feinberg began his musical training at age four studying Western classical piano.

Growing up in New York, he moved to standup bass and jazz, studying with such luminaries as Dave Holland, Paul Bley and Drew Gress.

His focus shifted to Hindustani music while pursuing a bachelors’ degree at the New England Conservatory. For the past two decades, he has toured constantly, performing on his own or with tabla masters such as Pandit Swapan Chaudhuri. Chaudhuri appears on Feinberg’s debut Homage.

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A faculty member at Portland’s Reed College and frequent lecturer at other campuses, he has published a sitar method book for the world’s largest music publisher, the Hal Leonard Corp.

But nothing excites the musician more than a live performance, and his latest direction has been to combine music with atmosphere playing in intimate candlelit settings.

For his Surrey appearance, he’s joined by tabla player Vivek Pandya.

Here are five things to know about Feinberg:

1. Candlelit ragas: “That idea of creating the atmosphere came from the creative mind of Nina Buddhev of the BANDISH Network and I’m really excited to see how it goes,” say Feinberg. “I think that the setting will certainly be appropriate for an evening raga and whatever else Vivek and I decide to perform.”

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2. Building walls to tear them down: “I identify as an immigrant to Indian classical music because I was not born into the tradition, as is the case with any other artist who finds themselves moving from one tradition to another. After spending decades building walls between my Western and Indian music training to separate them and prove my authenticity as a sitar player, I feel that I’ve done it. It was somewhat stifling to be constantly code-switching between cultures and determining which side of yourself to present at what time. Now I feel that those walls are crumbling and I’m coming into something that is authentically me. One of my favourite quotes is by Thelonious Monk, who said, ‘A genius is the one most like themselves.’ ”

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3. Life in music: “I started classical piano at age four, added standup bass at age eight and then came to Indian music, in some capacity, when I was about 15. It was a fairly easy transition, because I think of music as a single language with many dialects across cultures, and had over a decade of other training. Obviously, there was an incredible amount of new things to learn and master.”

4. Return to touring: “In 2019, I was on the road for over 30 weeks and that wasn’t an unusual schedule. I’ll be unpacking the experience of the pandemic and it’s effects on my work for the rest of my life, as I expect most of us will. It disrupted the cycle and status quo of everyone’s life and coincided with some very significant changes in my personal life that led to this new place where I’m much more integrated as an artist. It also is taking me back to New York City from Portland, which I’m really excited about. To be back in a big city with such a vibrant music scene should be a great change and opportunity.

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5. Time Does Not Exist For Light: “In any traditional art form, there is huge pressure to maintain this paradigm of the form which predates you. How do you do that while ushering the music forward is a big question that you have to ask yourself and I feel that I’m really headed down that path now. This release on Worlds Within Worlds records out of Sydney, Australia, features a couple of my own compositions that were the genesis of this new path I’m on blending some aspects of Western and Indian classical music together, and I’m really happy with it. I’ve also got a new project with the incredible jazz guitarist Rez Abassi called Naya Baaz which releases its album this year and I am so proud of it and think it’s going to blow the world music scene apart.”

[email protected]


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