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Between time and eternity, Tagore
- French abstract composer and non-resident Bengali make music with the Bard

Rabindranath and Einstein. Baul and cyber music. French composer and non-resident Bengali singer. The heady mix of opposites was on offer on Thursday evening. The musical extravaganza, ‘Between Time and Eternity’, organised by Alliance Francaise de Calcutta and staged at Calcutta School of Music, brought Marseilles-based composer Patrick Portella’s “no-melody-no-pitch-no-rhythm” virtual string quartet, which weaved in Gautam Mitra’s baul lilt. This meeting of tradition and modernity was made more harmonious by readings of conversations between Tagore and Einstein.

The idea goes back to 1998, when Portella, who composes music on the computer, came to India in search of “new sounds”, and was floored by Mitra’s rendition of Jodi tor dak shuney keu, sung in true-blue baul style. “I liked it so much that I went back to France and started researching on Tagore,” informs Portella, a graduate of Ecole de Musique. “Tagore’s texts are extremely popular in France — thanks to Roland Barthes — but not too many are aware of his music.” He chanced across a conversation between Tagore and Einstein in 1930 at Kapun — a Berlin suburbia. “I started thinking of a composition that would bring out the essence of the perceptions of the two humanists, as revealed in the conversation.” Portella submitted a project to the French government, got a grant and came back to India in 2000 to meet the bauls.

But Tagore was then still chained with copyright formalities. “I realised there would be too many bindings,” he says, “that would tie me down as a composer. So I decided to keep Tagore songs out of the project and use traditional baul songs instead.” Though his final challenge was to perform in Tagore’s home city, Calcutta — as he admitted hours before taking the stage — the audience reaction, hopefully, put his fears to rest. The project will be released on a disc by the French ministry of culture later this year.

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