Radha in the Forest
For Soprano and String Quartet
(or Soprano, doubling on Violin, and String Trio)
Commissioned by the Thalea String Quartet.
Premiered by Kumiko Sakamoto and the Thalea String Quartet on March 3, 2022, at the University of Maryland, Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center (MD).
~Recording coming soon~
The text is my adaptation of a Gita Govinda verse from 1100 CE. I imagine Radha, the classical
Sanskrit heroine, in my family's forest, during a lonely Massachusetts winter, in 2020. The poem shows her strange delirium: completely taken by love of Krishna, imagining him here, but fully alone. She imagines the splendor of nature in spring/summer, while the present is a desolate winter, with fires raging across the globe, in Australia. The musical material is inspired by various modes including Raag Charukeshi. In terms of tempo, the piece starts at a moderate speed (with longing) and ends fast (dance-like).
In my 20 years studying Odissi Classical Indian dance, I have personally danced to several versions of this song, “Pashyati Dishi Dishi.” In order to effectively enact this poetry through dance, you become, at times, all the characters: Radha (the protagonist), her friend, and Krishna (her divine lover). The atmosphere is delirious joy floating above painful loneliness. To me, some of the most beautiful aspects of this poetry exist in metaphor, how we use traits of human love and longing to describe divine love. My adapted text brings this 12th-century experience to my experience, and my/our present. Here, we have passionate love, and ebullient, divine joy, but also, the weight of environmental tragedy, loneliness and social isolation. My hope is that a song that contains all these contradictory states is some means of distracting, inspiring, escaping, knowing the present and moving forward.
Growing up studying Odissi with Guru Ranjanaa Devi provided me with a repertoire of stories, myths and
cultural practices. I still hold onto the devotional affect of the many dances that we learned. It’s something I try to express in my music for Western instruments, some confluence of music, dance, poetry, love and spirituality. The final, trance-like patterns recall bhajans (devotional music of South Asia), during fast, call-and-response improvisations.