This recent collaboration was initiated by Haripriya Raghavan, an ardent musician and music promoter in northern California for many years..
I still remember the initial meeting with the Conductor of the Symphony, Michael Neumann at Haripriya's house where we exchanged views on Western and Indian classical concepts and I showed him some examples of compositions I had arranged for orchestras before.
Then there was the formal meeting with Cathy Taylor, Executive Director of the Symphony when dates and other important logistics were finalised, almost 2 years ahead of time.
This kind of planning and professionalism is very much in tune with my own thinking and it gave all of us ample time to go back and forth on instrumentation, choice of compositions, fine-tuning of the arrangements etc.
To me, each such assignment is a learning curve and this was no exception. I learnt so much more about how Western composers and listeners approach music, what yardsticks they apply to measure the quality and viability of a composition, what are the factors one needs to pay attention to during arrangement, what kind of music sounds are easy to us but can be difficult to them and vice versa, what are the things that can make the music sound wholesome and so forth.
From the Symphony's standpoint, I was the first Indian and second non-American composer ever to collaborate with them and they were open to learning how Indian, especially Carnatic classical music worked.
I was very keen to not only compose fresh pieces for them but also introduce great classical composers from India and have their works presented on the same platform as the Mozarts or the Beethovens.
For this concert, I chose Tyagaraja's Niravadhi sukhada in Ravichandrika and I am glad to say that this is perhaps the first ever time that a full Western Symphony orchestra has performed the work of a master classical composer from India.
My two compositions for this concert were
(a) Maltz, a folksy, glitzy piece based mostly on Major scale (closer to raga Mand initially before changing over to a general medley).
(b) The Haunted Brook, a unique composition in world music based only on descending sequence of notes, based on raga Hamsanadam. This is part of my descent trilogy. I also have a similar composition in pure Carnatic style - Sada nin padame in raga Chakravakam, which in turn was inspired by maestro Ilayaraja's piece using only ascending phrases, Kalaivaniye in the film Sindhubhairavi.
A short clip of Haunted Brook was posted by a listener in that concert recently at You Tube:
If you notice, in this clip the two Carnatic artistes - Charumathi Raghuraman and Anand Anantha R Krishnan did not play but they had active roles in the other compositions and my solos (Raghuvamsha - Kadanakutoohalam and Appa rama bhakti - Pantuvarali).
The Sacramento Symphony artistes did their best, given that this was their first exposure to Melharmony and Indian styles. They excelled in their own repertoire of composers such as Edward Elgar and Kromsky. I had some Indian dancers present a couple of Oottukkadu Venkata Kavi's compositions - Shri Vighnarajam bhaje (Gambheeranattai) and Neelavanam (a folksy chindu).
Melharmony - as you all recall - was first conceptualised by me during my collaboration with artistes of the BBC Philharmonic.
Melharmony aims to bring new scales/modes, rhythmic and compositional forms to the West and bring new textures and sounds to Indian listeners. With an intent to "showcase harmony with an emphasis on rules of highly evolved melodic systems such as Indian classical", Melharmony has won critical media acclaim in many parts of the world and also generated academic interest in conferences such as Society for Music Theory.
I am glad that such collaborations are able to 'export' many key Indian concepts to mainstream Western audiences and with all your good wishes, I hope to continue such efforts over the years. What I have done so far is just a humble beginning...