RADHE RADHE: RITES OF HOLI Created For And Commissioned By Carolina Performing Arts At The University Of North Carolina At Chapel Hill. Additional commissioning funds for revision and completion of the work were provided by The Brooklyn Academy of Music/Next Wave Festival, CAP UCLA and The Strathmore.
Vijay Iyer is a Steinway artist and uses Ableton Live software. He records for ECM Records.
My dear friend and collaborator Prashant Bhargava passed away suddenly in 2015. Here are our updated joint notes about this project, which was his last major work. The Ojai performance is dedicated to him. – V.I.
Holi is known around the world as a joyful, chaotic and colorful celebration of springtime in India. When we were invited to respond to Stravinsky’s own famously chaotic work about springtime, we were intrigued by the possible connection with Holi. This festival provides an occasion to reconsider the aspects of ritual and transformation represented in Le Sacré du Printemps.
In early conversations, we realized that we were interested less in an artistic fantasy of pagan sacrifice than in the lived and felt reality of individuals on the brink of change: the significance of myth in earthly life as a living heritage. Our attention turned to the Braj region of Uttar Pradesh, India, the mythical home of Krishna, the Hindu deity whose youthful flirtations with his beloved Radha and her friends form one of the narratives for the holiday. According to one story, the young, dark-skinned god, annoyed that Radha was so fair, sneaks up on her and her friends, surprising the girls with showers of colored powder, perhaps evening the score.
Whether a playful strategy for overcoming racial difference, or a moment of interplay of gender and power, or simply the enactment of a youthful fantasy, this particular impulsive act is now the central, cathartic ritual of Holi. On that day everyone becomes Krishna and Radha (or fondly Radhe); all participants throw color and get color thrown at them. A pulsing desire to unite with the goddess sends a city into a feverish state of spinning and yearning. Everyone enters a state of uninhibited, ecstatic freedom that remains hidden for the rest of the year.
In March 2011, Prashant and his film crew traveled to Mathura and the surrounding region, where Holi celebrations last not one day and night, but eight. The cameras captured members of a community in the heightened throes of transformation, turning the seasons of their own lives. Temples fill with devotees, dancing without inhibition, pushing and shoving to receive blessings. Gangs of teenagers loiter on corners with buckets of colorful liquid and powder waiting to douse those who pass by. Men, high on intoxicating spirits, make a pilgrimage to Radha’s village dressed in vibrant garb from the region of Krishna’s playground and equipped with ceremonial shields; as the men boisterously taunt with sexually provocative chants, women await armed with long sticks ready to beat them. Purging fires, expressions of devoutness, and feats of austerity offer a nighttime counterpoint to the baudy daytime revels.
Radhe Radhe: Rites of Holi is a journey of devotion for the goddess Radha. In this project, we answer back to the Sacré score and ballet with a new work for chamber ensemble and film. International Contemporary Ensemble performs a suite for winds, strings, percussion, pianos, and electronics, in live counterpoint with cinematic episodes compiled from the Holi footage and from a staged depiction of Radha’s encounter with Krishna. The temporalities that structure the score come not only from the rhythms of the rituals and dances that you see onscreen, but also from the experiences of longing, catharsis, and transcendence that this celebration brings. The result is also a ballet of sorts: a performative encounter between live music and film, between lived experience and myth, the self and the transformed self, winter and spring.
Congratulations Stephen Gosling and John Zorn for an amazing review in @nytimes and a stellar performance at the @MillerTheatre at Columbia University! @HanniganBarbara and @OjaiFestivals receive a nod to the careful attention and programing of John Zorn's music featured in 2019.