Making music for the soul, with Jennifer Pike

We spoke to renowned violinist Jennifer Pike about a special concert combining Indian and Western classical music traditions

Violinist Jennifer Pike

What will the “Soul Strings” concert be about?

It’s a unique experience to go to a concert like this. I’m going to be playing with sarod players Ayaan and Amaan Ali Bangash, two legendary musicians, and we’ll be playing music by their father. It’s a collaboration between different cultures – Western classical and Indian classical music. I’ll be playing a little bit of Bach as well at the beginning of the concert, so it’s also going to showcase the different aspects of the violin. There are two parts, where at the beginning of each I play a violin opening, sort of like a cadenza, but it is composed, not improvised, however it also feels free at the same time.

Do you have any personal aims behind the concert programme?

I’m hoping for the audience to connect how important Bach is for us as classical listeners, just so fundamental to everything in our musical tradition, and how Indian classical traditions are important for them as well. It’s passed down just like Bach’s music is and still alive today, somehow, in everything we do, especially for the violin. I feel every Western composer has drawn on Bach’s work, whether unconsciously or consciously, because Bach was one of the real pioneers of the instrument. For Indian classical music it’s kind of sacred as well, their scales – ragas – are sacred. It’s just interesting to see how, at least from an outside perspective, this is similar in the Indian classical music world, how their traditions are very, very important for them.

What has it been like to work with Amaan and Ayaan Ali Bangash?

I asked them a lot of questions, like what would an Indian violin sound like? What would it do? I could do this slide here, what do you think? They were extremely open and wouldn’t tell me how to do things. They’re not looking for me to imitate because that would be totally impossible. You can see this in the violin players from India, it’s like a whole other language, the way they ornament things, there’s no way I could imitate it authentically. I’m just bringing my own personality and just kind of dipping into their sound world. I’ve mostly been in awe of them really. When they’re on stage, as they play, their eyes are closed most of the time. It’s like their accessing the deepest space within themselves. It’s been a real privilege to be a part of.

What are you most looking forward to about the performance?

That’s a really hard question because all of it is really exciting. ‘Romancing The Earth’ is one of the pieces and I think it’s absolutely beautiful. I also love that there’s the incredible sound of the tabla. It’s just so beautiful. We’ve performed before, at the Wigmore Hall amongst other places, and it was a life-changing experience for me really, because Amaan and Ayaan are such phenomenal musicians. When I’m playing with them it’s like we lock into these complex polyrhythms, really complicated musical passages that we all play together, so it’s quite exhilarating. It builds and builds and builds to a real sort of climax at the end, and it’s wonderful for the audience to take part in as well because sometimes they have broken out into applause. This happened at the Wigmore Hall after a particularly difficult passage. It was also a real mix of audience, which I loved about it too.

What would you say to audiences thinking of coming to the concert?

You don’t have to know anything about Baroque or Indian classical music to enjoy this concert. It’s open to all ears and everyone’s welcome. It’s kind of the whole point really, a feeling of openness in this concert, just to take your mind off things and take you into another world. Amaan and Ayaan’s playing certainly does that for me. I think the audience will be really surprised by the different sounds that they hear. I think the sarod is slightly less well known than the sitar. It’s a fantastic experience, good for the soul, which is why it’s called Soul Strings!

Jennifer will be performing ‘Soul Strings’ with Ayaan and Amaan Ali Bangash Wednesday 30 November at 7.30pm in our Elgar Concert Hall, as part of our Barber Evening Concert series.