Back in London
In 1996, the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Martyn Brabbins gave the first performance of Lila, a major orchestral work which it had taken Sohal five years to realise. This is a musical representation of the process of enlightenment as described in Hindu philosophy and experienced through meditation. As the work progresses, listeners are challenged to experience and survive in an increasingly rarified musical terrain. Many in the audience found this an awe-inspiring experience.
In 1997, the piece Satyagraha, commissioned to mark the fiftieth year of Indian independence was performed at the Barbican by London Symphony Orchestra, conductor Zubin Mehta. In 1998, Sohal completed a second music theatre piece in collaboration with Trevor Preston. This is Maya, an allegory drawn from Indian mythology.
He moved on to complete a song cycle, Songs of Desire, a setting of three poems by Tagore. This work has been performed variously in Bombay, London and at the Dartington Festival. He also produced Hymn of Creation, a major work for chorus and orchestra. This is a setting of the seven mantras on creation from the Rig Veda. Never one to pass up a challenge, Sohal’s setting is in both English and Sanskrit.
A period of experimentation followed. Sohal broke new ground with Songs of the Five Rivers, settings in the original language of poems by classical Punjabi poets Bullay Shah and Waris Shah. This work was commissioned by the BBC Symphony Orchestra and given its first performance by them with soprano Sally Silver. The work not only showcased Sally’s considerable musical talents but enabled her to demonstrate her mastery of the Punjabi language.
In several of his works around this time, Sohal experimented with the use of Indian drums and tabla in chamber and orchestral contexts. One of these was a concerto for viola and orchestra, commissioned by the Russian Chamber Orchestra of London and premiered by them in 2002 with soloist Rivka Golani.