More often than not, the sitar is included in Western music for exotic, coloristic effect, to suggest, in a superficial way, Eastern beatitude. But the seven-stringed, lutelike instrument, which has been around in its native India for more than seven centuries, is far more versatile and sophisticated than its popular usages let on. Much of India’s classical repertoire–the thousands of orally preserved melodic patterns called ragas, whose ancestry can be traced to Vedic hymns–can be performed on it. Each raga is defined by a set of musical rules, but the measure of a player’s mastery is his ability to improvise within those boundaries. Sitar prodigy Kartik Seshadri, now in his late 30s, began studying with Ravi Shankar in 1974, immersing himself in senia and dhrupad, a couple of distinctive northern Indian performing traditions. He moved to the U.S. in the early 80s to continue his apprenticeship. Now acknowledged by Shankar as his foremost protege–and honored as a duet partner on his concert tours–Seshadri plays in a style reminiscent of his guru. His finger work is nimble, and his tone is invariably pure. His intricate ragas are graceful and expressive, especially when hinting at emotional turmoil under surface calm. In this, his local solo debut–part of the festivities that open the Art Institute’s new exhibit “Telling Images: Stories in Art”–Seshadri is scheduled to play at least two ragas, with Bikram Ghosh accompanying on the tabla, a small two-piece drum. Which ones will be determined by Seshadri right before the concert, as he gauges the setting, the audience, and his own mood. Sunday, 1 PM, Fullerton Auditorium, Art Institute of Chicago, Michigan and Adams; 443-3680.


Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Bob Bretell.