A Flurry of Activity
In 1972, Sohal won an Arts Council bursary which enabled him to move to Leeds University to begin a study of the compositional aspects of micro-intervals, under the auspices of the composer, Alexander Goehr. This was a thesis which he was ideally placed to produce, given his familiarity with Indian classical music where the octave has twenty-two divisions, and the fact that he often tantalised performers and audiences by using micro-intervals in his own work. However, the lure of the act of composition was once again too great and the study was left unfinished. At Leeds, Sohal met his partner-to-be, Janet Swinney, who was busy abridging Dickens’ Dombey and Son for radio. They shared a great interest in Indian philosophy and, of course, an interest in music.
Sohal returned to his London base, where he was now caught up in a whirl of activity. Aalaykhyam II, completed in 1972 was performed that same year by the English Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Andrew Davis; Kavita III, composed for the virtuoso soprano Jane Manning and Barry Guy, double bass, was taken on an Arts Council tour, and Asht Prahar was recorded by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Andrew Davis. Sohal won the 1974 Young Composers’ Forum with the chamber piece Hexad, and in 1975 the late, excellent Thomas Igloi with the BBC Symphony Orchestra under David Atherton gave the first performance of Dhyan 1 (1974), a work for cello and small orchestra.
In 1975, Kavita II was one of the BBC’s entries for the International Rostrum of Composers held in Paris. It was chosen as one of the best ten entries and subsequently broadcast on twenty radio stations throughout Europe.
And so it went on, with Sohal representing the West at international music conferences, touring his work Hexad round Asia with the Nordeutscher Rundfunk Ensemble and having a new chamber work premiered almost every year.
In 1981, the BBC commissioned the composer to write a work for the 1982 season of Promenade Concerts. This gave him the opportunity to revert to his compositional love of large musical forces. Attracted by its existential bleakness, he chose the Old English poem, the Wanderer, as his text and set it for baritone, symphony orchestra and chorus. The work received its first performance at the Proms in 1982 with David Wilson-Johnson, baritone, the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the BBC Chorus and the BBC Singers, conductor Andrew Davis. The work was acclaimed by the critics, and many who were in the hall that night can no doubt recall the frisson they felt as the musical equivalents of snow and ice blattered round the auditorium, starkly delineating spiritual anguish.