The Divine Song
‘Naresh has had a great success with this work. It hangs together like a tapestry. It works absolutely as intended. And the musicians love it.’
Zubin Mehta, Music Director, Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, Chief Conductor, Teatro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, Joint Chief Conductor of the Opera, Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciencies, Valencia
‘I was scheduled to conduct the first performance of Naresh Sohal’s Lila in October of ’96, but became ill and was unable to do so. Instead, I listened to the premiere in bed in hospital! I knew what to expect, of course, but even so the piece made an overwhelming impression on me, as it clearly did on the audience as well.
The shape of the work is relatively simple – a series of interconnected episodes each with its own distinctive character, some reaching massive climaxes, others whispering their message; what is remarkable, however, is the sense of inevitability in the progress from one idea to the next, culminating in the spiritually pure and elevated final section where the answering melismeta in voice and orchestra achieve a transcendence all too rarely found… I believe it is probably Sohal’s finest accomplishment to date.’
Andrew Davis, Chief Conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Music Director of Glyndebourne Festival Opera, Music Director Designate of Lyric Opera of Chicago
‘A composer of sparing yet always compelling production, Sohal offered a powerful antidote to the putative view of yoga as passive dreaming. Six paragraphs of his Lila, each prefaced by an arresting image of double bass and timpani pulsations, depicted the mental turbulence that this discipline seeks to pacify, before the seventh sent Sarah Leonard to the upper heights of the soprano voice to depict the cosmic union. Like the mind itself, Lila was a boiling cauldron of ideas that had nothing in common with the cliched image of “meditation” music. There were striking roles for saxophone, wind machine and tuned percussion. Play it again, BBC, as soon as possible.’
Nicholas Williams, the Independent, 15.10.96.
‘This concert… also included a more primitive and exotic, and yet more directly accessible novelty by an Indian composer who should be watched. Naresh Sohal’s pungent and well-proportioned Aalaykhyam suggested a musical ear and imagination out of the ordinary.’
Felix Aprahamian, Sunday Times 5.12.71.
‘The musical subject matter bespeaks a really individual mind, as eloquent in sensuous polyphony as in hectic, explosive outbursts…his musical personality seems violently passionate…his technique assured, never cautious though calculating. The results make one eager to hear what he will write next.’
The Times 29.11.71.
‘Naresh Sohal’s Aalaykhyam I failed to soothe the ear, but it certainly set the adrenalin working. The music presented a fascinatingly rich sound-tapestry, woven not out of chromatic threads, but of a strange mixture of simple melodic phrases, micro-tonal inflections, improvisatory passages, free rhythm and bizarre string effects.’
‘Spirits were soon lifted by the new piece which began the programme, Naresh Sohal’s Dhayan I for ‘cello and small orchestra… Since our western ears are used to a scale with no more rungs than twelve, music that moves in smaller steps usually sounds either unpleasantly wrong or fussily over-decorated; but not so Sohal’s. In this new piece he uses the increased subtlety in melody that can be anything from gracefully lyrical to dramatically urgent, and in harmony of strength and independence.’
Paul Griffiths, the Times, 29.1.74.
‘Naresh Sohal’s Dhyan I (is) an unpretentious, well-made piece with an athletic solo part and pleasing evocations of Indian bands for the orchestra.’
Sunday Telegraph 16.2.75.
‘The composer’s handling of the small orchestra, and particularly of the three percussionists and brass was strikingly original.’
Hugo Cole, the Guardian, 29.1.75.
‘Here the atmosphere of languorous lassitude (enjoyed and indulged) provided a compelling framework for a setting of John Donne’s The Good Morrow – the poetry becomes tougher than does Sohal’s music, but its conclusion is beautifully mirrored in Sohal’s final microtonally dissonant unison.’
Nicholas Kenyon, music critic, 12.7.78.
‘It is a highly rhapsodic piece, beautifully notated, often going from one dynamic extreme to another, from near screams to whispers. The text is very carefully articulated, moving from half-spoken to half-whispered to fully sung declamations.’
Marshall Bialosky, Quarterly Journal of the Music Library Association, March 1984.
‘Shades III… seemed to inhabit a world independent of any particular tradition.’
Meirion Bowen, the Guardian, 21.9.82.
‘Naresh Sohal holds a unique position among western composers in the sense that, although he was born in India, his musical idiom is entirely western. This formidable adaptation to western musical culture as an acclaimed composer is a unique case. His work The Wanderer… will endure as a rewarding composition for bass-baritone, chorus and orchestra. The Wanderer is based on an Anglo-Saxon poem questioning man’s place in the universe. The inherent sense of heightening and releasing of tension of the poem led Naresh Sohal to a highly individual and impressive musical language… A slow and often sombre breathing process is evident throughout the work; dark colours prevail.’
Manfred Junius, National Centre for Performing Arts Quarterly Journal, 1983.
‘The desolate, windswept, frozen landscape was virtually recreated through music with astonishing power. The harmonies…that are found in abundance in Sohal’s work, create the eeriness of folorn isolation, while the chorus, with enormous acoustic energy, creates vast space the like of which is rarely heard in contemporary music…The final movement of the composition makes a deeply moving impression on the listeners. Sohal’s work received a standing ovation that night!’
Bhaskar Chandavarkar, National Centre for Performing Arts Quarterly Journal, 1983.
‘So stupendous is it that I would safely venture to call it one of the most important compositions in the world, created during the last decade.’
Farah Rustom, 1983.
‘This is a choral composition that could well be taken up by more than one grateful choral organisation.’
Max Loppert, Financial Times, 24.8.82.
‘… Sohal’s music is bold, theatrical and richly sonorous…There is great beauty in the work, excitement in its sudden dynamic changes and leaps, and a clear-cut separation within the musical structure of the big, spatial, external events in Buddha’s life and those within the man as he struggles to free himself from worldly trappings.’
Ann Holmes, Houston Chronicle, 25.5.89.
‘… much of Gautama Buddha is captivating. Its origins lie in the strong and sensitive score composed… by Naresh Sohal… to his own scenario.’
Kathrine Sorley Walker, the Telegraph, 24.8.98.
Madness Lit by Lightning
‘The story offers dramatic scope to which Trevor Preston has responded with a fast moving text full of verbal imagery. He thus offered the composer many opportunities to write vivid and dramatic music. This Naresh Sohal has done, and the result is an impressive score taut in construction which makes its points with economy.’
Janet Beat, the Scotsman, 19.9.89.
‘This (work) was positively arresting, excitingly percussive and rich in atmosphere and persuasive rhythms.’
Wilma Paterson, the Scotsman September, 1985
‘The evening’s world premiere…used Rule Britannia! And Ram Dhun, a tune for Lord ram sung by Gandhi at his prayer meetings, as an allegory of the opposing parties in the independence struggle.
…Stressing the peaceful nature of the transition, Sohal so shocked native listeners with a strident version of Arne’s nautical ditty that thereafter they were open to the work’s many beauties, not least its magical opening for solo flute and the smooth link to the upbeat second section with its bracing trumpets and percussion.
A worthy tribute, then to a lasting association that, as Nehru remarked, happens rarely in the history of nations. In this anniversary year, it would be a shame if this were Satyagraha’s only performance.’
Nicholas Williams, the Independent, 19.3.97.
‘The piece is… a carefully conceived and sensitively executed single movement of impressive dimensions, containing much that is beautiful and original. Of particular originality is its formal structure. It… conveys a sense of eternal recurrence appropriate to the Hindu cosmology from which its plan derives.’
Carlton Gamer, Colorado College, in Notes, Second Series, Vol 35, No2, Dec 1978, pub. Music Library Association
‘This is a setting of Tagore’s The Gardener. [The poem] forms the core of the whole piece, and the structural freedom with its integration of Eastern and Western elements guided by the composer’s ear for pure sound qualities is most impressive.’
Anthony Payne, composer and critic, Tempo No. 96, Spring 1971.
‘Today, no composer of comparable importance is perhaps so poorly represented in musical literature and on record, with the result that he is seldom encountered in the repertoire either. For all his great range of gifts Sohal was a composer obviously more interested in sitting down with some work rather than cultivating any kind of public profile. To the end, while constantly attempting to bridge the chasm between musical cultures, he persisted in writing challenging and distinguished music. There is much here that both affection and judgement demand shall live.’
From obituary by Kenneth Shenton, MusicWeb International, October 2018.