In 1983, Sohal and his partner moved to Edinburgh. This brought a change of pace and a widening of focus. In the concert hall, the composer continued to work on a large scale. In 1984, he turned once again to the elegaic works of Tagore for From
Gitanjali, a work for baritone and orchestra commissioned by the Philharmonic Symphony of New York. The work was premiered in New York, in the composer’s presence, by John Cheek and the New York Symphony Orchestra, conductor Zubin Mehta. Sohal followed this with an orchestral work, Tandava Nritya (1984) commissioned by the British Council for the London Symphony Orchestra for a planned tour of India, and then a violin concerto for the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. This was premiered in 1986 with the Chinese violinist Xue Wei as the soloist, and Martyn Brabbins the conductor.
In 1987, Sohal achieved an important accolade. He was awarded the Padma Shree, the Order of the Lotus, by the Government of India for his services to Western Music. He was the first non-resident Indian to receive such an award.
During this period, the composer at last had the opportunity to produce works which involved dance or drama as well as music. In 1987, commissioned by BBC Television, he completed Gautama Buddha, the music for a ballet about the life of Lord Buddha, based on his own scenario and choreographed by Christopher Bruce. This extremely ambitious work was premiered in Houston, Texas, where it was given seven performances by Houston Ballet. It then transferred to Edinburgh where it formed part of the 1989 International Festival programme.
That same year, on Sohal’s fiftieth birthday, the Paragon Ensemble gave the first performance, in Glasgow, of Madness Lit by Lightning, a music theatre piece which is a contemporary fable about human degradation. The composer and the librettist, Trevor Preston, better known for his extensive work in television drama, found themselves well-matched in terms of temperament and artistic purpose. The resulting work – spare, sinuous, and intense – offered a truly powerful theatrical experience.
Also to mark the composer’s fiftieth birthday, ‘cellist Anup Kumar Biswas, a long-time champion of his work, commissioned a work for his trio, the Guadagnini. This too was given its first performance in 1989.
At the same time, Sohal began writing for film and T.V. His work included the score for the award-winning programme Sir William in Search of Xanadu, directed by Barrie Gavin, and produced by Scottish Television, which marked the opening of the Burrell Collection in Glasgow, and Monarchy – the Enchanted Glass, also for Scottish Television.
But factors in the political and economic climate were beginning to affect Sohal’s career. Arts funding was dwindling apace, and in Scotland nationalism was on the rise. Sohal suddenly found that he qualified neither as Scottish, English or British when it came to grants, commissions and inclusion in public forums. In 1991, he was investigated by Her Majesty’s Inland Revenue on suspicion of being too poor. He protested that he was virtually a vegetarian and seldom drank alcohol and that this kept his expenses down.
Nevertheless, he was required to make a list of all the items he owned that were worth more than £100 ($160). He eventually found two items to put on the list: one was a ‘cello which had acquired some years earlier but couldn’t play; the second was the suit in which he took his bow at concerts. The case was dropped.
The L.S.O.’s tour of India did not materialise. Tandava Nritya, was eventually premiered in 1993 in the Royal Scottish Orchestra’s rehearsal hall in Glasgow, alongside the work of young composers who had never heard their work performed before. Such was the power of the composition, which is a musical representation of the dance of the forces of creation and destruction, that it nearly ripped the roof off the building – metaphorically if not literally.
Despite strongly supporting a devolved parliament for Scotland, Sohal decided he couldn’t survive in the increasingly hostile environment. In 1993, he and Janet returned to London.