the blog of musician Dinuk Wijeratne

Tag: orchestra

Concerto for Tabla & Orchestra (2011)


“The piece is fantastic, complex, and brilliant. The orchestration and solo writing are masterful. I didn’t think one could pull off [such] a concerto, but Dinuk did. I don’t know of anything like it. The audience went crazy after it for good reason.”
John Corigliano

“Dinuk Wijeratne’s Tabla Concerto is a breath of fresh air in the repertoire – a vibrant, colourful piece that orchestras love to play, and audiences will never forget.”
– JoAnn Falletta
(Music Director: Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra & Virginia Symphony Orchestra; Principal Conductor: the Ulster Orchestra)

“Dinuk is one of the most gifted musicians I know. His Tabla Concerto is a pioneering work of musical fusion, a seamless integration of the most complex aspects of North Indian Classical Tabla music into a totally Western model.”
– Bernhard Gueller 
(Music Director: Symphony Nova Scotia)

“Dinuk Wijeratne’s Tabla Concerto is a fresh, engaging, cross-cultural, embracing and original piece, which blends cultures marvellously. Combined with Sandeep Das’ virtuosity and energy as soloist, the concerto delighted both audience and orchestra at its US premieres. To include tabla recitation in the last movement was a stroke of genius.”
– Alastair Willis 
(Music Director: Illinois Symphony Orchestra)

“Dinuk’s Concerto for Tabla and Orchestra is utterly spectacular. From the moment it begins, you are drawn into an evocative world where cultures have no barriers, and co-exist in a way that is completely natural. Add to that a high octane, colourful score and everyone…musicians, audience, conductor…all leave excited and looking for more!”
– Robert Franz 
(Music Director: Windsor Symphony Orchestra, Boise Philharmonic)


Listen to all three movements:

1. Canons, Circles

2. Folk song: ‘White in the moon the long road lies (that leads me from my love)’

3. Garland of Gems


World premiere given by Ed Hanley (Tabla) & Symphony Nova Scotia conducted by Bernhard Gueller on February 9th, 2012, @ the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium, Halifax, Nova Scotia. Recorded live by the CBC. First Canada-wide broadcast: Sunday January 27th on IN CONCERT, CBC Radio2. The Tabla Concerto was a finalist for the 2012 Masterworks Prize. 


2 flutes (2nd doubling piccolo)
2 oboes (2nd doubling cor anglais)
2 clarinets in B♭ (2nd doubling bass clarinet)
2 bassoons

2 horns in F
2 trumpets in B♭
1 trombone

2 percussion



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1. Canons, Circles
2. Folk song: ‘White in the moon the long road lies
(that leads me from my love)’
3. Garland of Gems

While the origins of the Tabla are somewhat obscure, it is evident that this ‘king’ of Indian percussion instruments has achieved global popularity for the richness of its timbre, and for the virtuosity of a rhythmically complex repertoire that cannot be separated from the instrument itself. In writing a large-scale work for Tabla and Symphony Orchestra, it is my hope to allow each entity to preserve its own aesthetic. Perhaps, at the same time, the stage will be set for some new discoveries.

While steeped in tradition, the Tabla lends itself heartily to innovation, and has shown its cultural versatility as an increasingly sought-after instrument in contemporary Western contexts such as Pop, Film Music, and World Music Fusion. This notion led me to conceive of an opening movement that would do the not-so-obvious by placing the Tabla first in a decidedly non-Indian context. Here, initiated by a quasi-Baroque canon in four parts, the music quickly turns into an evocation of one my favourite genres of electronic music: ‘Drum-&-Bass’, characterised by rapid ‘breakbeat’ rhythms in the percussion. Of course, there are some North-Indian Classical musical elements present. The whole makes for a rather bizarre stew that reflects globalisation, for better or worse!

A brief second movement becomes a short respite from the energy of the outer movements, and offers a perspective of the Tabla as accompanist in the lyrical world of Indian folk-song. Set in ‘dheepchandhi’, a rhythmic cycle of 14 beats, the gently lilting gait of theTabla rhythm supports various melodic fragments that come together to form an ephemeral love-song.

Typically, a Tabla player concluding a solo recital would do so by presenting a sequence of short, fixed (non-improvised) compositions from his/her repertoire. Each mini-composition, multi-faceted as a little gem, would often be presented first in the form of a vocal recitation. The traditional accompaniment would consist of a drone as well as a looping melody outlining the time cycle – a ‘nagma’ – against which the soloist would weave rhythmically intricate patterns of tension and release. I wanted to offer my own take on a such a recital finale, with the caveat that the orchestra is no bystander. In this movement, it is spurred on by the soloist to share in some of the rhythmic complexity. The whole movement is set in ‘teentaal’, or 16-beat cycle, and in another departure from the traditional norm, my nagma kaleidoscopically changes colour from start to finish. I am indebted to Ed Hanley for helping me choose several ‘gems’ from the Tabla repertoire, although we have certainly had our own fun in tweaking a few, not to mention composing a couple from scratch.

© Dinuk Wijeratne 2011


NYC diary: exhausted, I’m spending the night in for a change

I’m in New York City again this week. As usual it amazes me how, with little or no planning at all, one can attend utterly unique events back-to-back. On Sunday night, it was to Avery Fisher Hall (yes, the one where you can hear Mahler 9 complete with incessantly ringing cellphone) for the Essentially Ellington concert.

On Monday night, I was at the United Nations General Assembly Hall (yikes yes, the one we’re used to seeing daily on TV) to celebrate the International Day of Vesak, a Buddhist holy day. After accepting, last-minute, an invitation from the Sri Lankan ambassador to the UN, it felt somewhat surreal to find myself sitting in that space, listening for hours to speeches by delegates from Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Burma, and Indonesia.

And on Tuesday night, it was for the groundbreaking Spring for Music Festival to witness the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra make their debut at Carnegie Hall (yes, the one you have to practise to get to).


I’d like to mention Sunday’s Jazz evening in some detail. This celebratory concert was the high-spirited culmination of the Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Band Competition & Festival. Annually organized by Jazz-at-Lincoln-Center, it is just one part of one of the most innovative jazz education events in the world. How fortuitous for me, during my listening-to-everything-Ellington-phase, that I was able to hear the three finalist high school bands perform selections from Duke’s magnificent oeuvre in front of, and alongside, their mentors: the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra (LCJO). Their standard of performance was astounding, and they had been whittled down from over one hundred applying bands from across the USA.

The evening’s program had been designed so cleverly: in the first half, the band finalists each performed a couple of Ellington pieces, including one which would feature a soloist/mentor from the LCJO. For me, Walter Blanding stole the show.

In the second half we got a real treat: the LCJO played an entire set of Ellington. Yeah baby. As you can imagine, by this point I was in Ellington heaven. If you’ve never heard this ensemble play, then just know that they can simmer, cook, and boil your house down in no time at all:

Wynton was particularly low-key on Sunday night. But hey, he was there and he took a solo. Btw, I’ve read many sick bios in my time, but his is the sickest.

Sitting there on Sunday night, I couldn’t help think that we were one of the most educated Jazz audiences the LCJO would ever play for. I mean, pressed into the front rows of the venue were hundreds of high school musicians – no doubt the cream of the USA’s youth Jazz elite – who had just spent an entire year scrutinizing the very repertoire that their heroes and mentors were now performing live in front of them. The youth knew every riff and every rhythm of this music. Whenever a soloist pulled out a killer solo, they would swoon in harmony with every phrase. Before long, the air was filled with cheers and whoops from the audience that were so precisely timed, it was hard to imagine that these vocals were not part of the original musical fabric. But wait, maybe they were….this was a live concert of the LCJO playing Ellington.

On musical temperament

To all those orchestral musicians now hoping to count their bar rests down at the local pub: I suspect you’d probably only pull this off with reasonable accuracy if you’ve had some serious dance training with Merce Cunningham.