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Naresh Sohal was born in 1939 in Punjab, Northern India. He is the first and one of the few accomplished Indian-born composers of western classical music. He is the first composer in this tradition ever to make settings of texts in Sanskrit, Punjabi and Bengali (although he has also made many settings in English). He was the first composer ever to be offered an annual bursary by the Arts Council of Great Britain. Sohal is the first Non Resident Indian (NRI) ever to be awarded a Padma Shri (Order of the Lotus) by the Indian Government.
Although Sohal writes in the Western idiom, his extensive range of compositions shows a long-standing and serious commitment to the insights of Hindu philosophy.
Life and career
From an early age, Sohal showed an interest in popular music, his tastes being influenced by the broadcasts of All India Radio and Radio Ceylon. He did not come from a musical family, but his father, Des Raj, was an Urdu poet of some reputation and poets often held gatherings at the family home. By the time Sohal reached college, he had acquired a harmonica, and become a versatile performer of rock and roll and Indian film songs, and once entertained the President of India. His fist encounter with Western classical music came in Bombay, where he heard Beethoven's Eroica symphony on the radio during the monsoon. He determined to learn more about how such music was created. His resolve hardened when an Indian musician refused to teach him Indian classical music on the mouth organ. In 1962, he left India for the United Kingdom, intending to find a way to learn to write western music.
Sohal is largely self-educated, but received support from composer and teacher Jeremy Dale Roberts. He became a copyist at Boosey and Hawks, the music publishers, and began composing in earnest. He had his first work, Asht Prahar, performed at a Society for the Promotion of New Music (SPNM) concert in 1970. Since then, he has gone on to produce over sixty works. These include the 'Poems of Tagore' the vast 'Wanderer' for chorus, orchestra and baritone soloist which premiered at the BBC Proms in 1982; 'Gautama Buddha', a ballet on the life of Buddha, performed in Houston, Texas and at the Edinburgh International Festival in 1989; a chamber opera, Madness Lit by Lightning; violin and viola concertos and a range of chamber works. He has written a number of scores for film and TV, and produced a collection of contemporary ghazals.
Critics have referred to Sohal's style as follows:-
- 'Sohal's music is dominated by a wonderful sense of colour - for that reason he loves above all to write for the orchestra with its endless range of timbres and textures... His musical style is unique and independent, indeed maverick.' - Music Current, September 1989.
- 'Like Berlioz or Tippett, his musical style has a maverick independence and a peculiar set of criteria all its own'. - Meirion Bowen, The Guardian, 21.8.82.
- His is a particularly distinctive voice.' - Carol Main, Scotland on Sunday, 18.9.92.
Sohal's works have been performed both nationally and internationally. Artistes who have performed them include Jane Manning and Sally Silver, sopranos; David Wilson-Johnson, baritone; Xue Wei, violin; Barry Buy, double bass; Rivka Golani, viola; Rohan de Saram, 'cello; the ConTempo, Dante and Edinburgh quartets; the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under Sir Andrew Davis, and the New York Philharmonic under Zubin Mehta. Recent performances of his work have taken place at the Dartington and Spitalfields festivals in the UK. In 2006, he was a guest of the Pan-Asian Music Festival at Stanford University, USA, where his 'Songs of the Five Rivers' was performed.
In 1987, Sohal was awarded a Padma Shri (Order of the Lotus) by the Indian government for his services to music. He currently lives in London where he is working on a piece for narrator and orchestra. The work focuses on the central message of the 'Bhagavad Gita' which concerns fulfilling one's responsibilities in the face of difficult choices.
- Nath, Dipanita (18 January 2010). "Music of War & Peace". The Indian Express. Retrieved 8 August 2010.
- The Strand, July 2000,
- The Independent, 19 March 1997,
- The Scotsman 23 August 1989,
- Houston Chronicle 25 May 1989,
- Scotland on Sunday 4 June 1989,
- New York Times 15 September 1985,
- The Economic Times of India 7 March 1983,
- The Observer colour supplement 22 August 1982,
- The National Centre for Performing Arts Quarterly Journal Vol. XII 1983, nos. 2 and 3 (Part One)
- Musical Times August 1982.
- The Guardian 23 August 1982.
- International Herald Tribune, 13 September 1985,
- The Straits Times 21 September 1982.
- New York Times, Tempo magazine, Spring 1971.
- Oxford Companion to Music,
- People of Today from Debretts
- The British Music Information Centre,
- The National Library of Scotland, where some of the composer's scores are held,
- Novello and Company, publishers.