Vijay Iyer melds ‘Rites of Spring,’ Hindu Holi festival

vijayiyerby-jimmykatz01Renowned jazz pianist/composer/bandleader Vijay Iyer tied the primordial rituals of “The Rite of Spring” to the modern-day celebration of the Hindu Holi festival.

Immersive devotion. Intensity. Passion. Carnality. Catharsis.

For eight days and nights, the Holi festival, an ancient Hindu welcoming of spring, fills the Braj region of North India with colorful dyes, ecstatic dancing, fires, frenzy and jubilation. Men make a pilgrimage to the village of the goddess Radha to show their devotion; women, meanwhile, arm themselves with staffs, ready to administer a beating.

Certainly, Holi takes place in other parts of the country and the world — and hints can be seen even in “color run” events where participants are doused in vibrant powders. But it is here that celebrated filmmaker Prashant Bhargava trekked to capture a story of transformation and renewal. And it is here that “RADHE RADHE: Rites of Holi,” a film and music collaboration with renowned jazz pianist/composer/bandleader Vijay Iyer, really began. Iyer had been invited to create a piece for “ ‘The Rite of Spring’ at 100,” a 2013 commemoration of Igor Stravinsky’s iconic frenetic and unsettling work, held by Carolina Performing Arts and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Seeking a fresh cultural perspective, Iyer tied the primordial rituals of “The Rite of Spring” to the modern-day celebration — and contacted Bhargava, a past collaborator and fellow U.S.-born artist with Indian heritage, with the offer to pack up and go. Bhargava, who had spent three years immersing himself in Indian culture to create the much-lauded film “Patang (The Kite),” had only three weeks to prepare.

The result? An “exciting” journey, one that can be seen and heard at OZ Arts Nashville this weekend. Based on Bhargava’s footage, Iyer followed the episodic template of “The Rite of Spring” to create the work.

“The raw footage was pretty overwhelming,” Iyer admits. “There was so much of it, and all of it was so compelling. … It’s amazing to see these people, these faces, these human souls going through this really transformative, ritualistic experience that is very separate from their everyday lives.” The fact that those faces looked much like his own family only deepened the connection, he says, and he could imagine the scents and the atmosphere. The real-life rhythms and the music of roving singers and drummers found their way inside.

At OZ, Iyer will perform the piece live with the film, along with International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE). It will only be the second time he’s performed it live; in this version of the film, an actress portraying Radha has been added, deepening the piece’s sensuality.

“I would say that we are hoping to inspire the same journey that those in the festival take themselves,” Bhargava says. “It was a true time of renewal, and I was captivated by that.”

In addition to “Holi,” the program includes Iyer’s “Mutations I-X” for string quartet, piano and electronics, performed with Miranda Cuckson, Michi Wiancko and members of ICE. Also focusing on transformation, it strikes a balance between fixed patterns and improvisation. The piece was written close to a decade ago and released as a recording this year.

If you go

What: OZ Arts Nashville presents Vijay Iyer’s “Music of Transformation,” including “RADHE RADHE: Rites of Holi” and “Mutations I-X.”

When: 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday.

Where: 6172 Cockrill Bend Circle

Tickets: $45-$57.50.

Source: The Tennessean