Sunday Spotlight on the Non-Western Cello: Saskia Rao-de Haas and the Indian Cello

Saskia Rao de Haas
Saskia Rao-de Haas

This week’s installment of the Sunday Spotlight on the Non-Western Cello is about Dutch cellist, Saskia Rao de Haas.  I first learned about her and her work playing Indian music on the cello some years ago.  I finally picked up a copy of the CD, Creating Waves (released on Rhyme Records), that she and her husband Shubhendra Rao (disciple of Pandit Ravi Shankar)  for which I am very grateful as at the time only a few audio clips of Saskia’s work was available at her old website.


from her bio:

Saskia Rao-de Haas is a brilliant cellist and composer from the Netherlands. She is based in New Delhi, India where she is recognized as a well-known exponent of Indian Classical music. Saskia is hailed as a pioneer in the world of music for introducing her Indian Cello. Speaking about Saskia in an interview on National Television, her Guru Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia said,“Saskia has been taught by God and everyone should listen to her music”.

Here’s a video of Saskia in performance with Shubendhra:

What I find remarkable about the clip above is that the tune (at :35 secs) sounds remarkably like a popular Klezmer tune based on arabic music, usually referred to as Araber Tanz–not just remarkably like, but the melodic outline of both the themes (before it cuts to a different clip) is exactly the same.  Other than the fact that what Saskia and Shubhendra are playing is in a 7 beat meter rather than what is usually a 2/4 for the Klezmer tune.   I really need to ask her about that, as I hadn’t thought about it till looking for this vid to post.

Here’s a recent youtube video of her performing Raga Miyan ki Malhar (part 2 of the video is also on youtube) which is attributed to Miyan Tansen:

Also from her bio is this little snippet about the Ragamala String Quartet which I can’t wait to hear!

Saskia formed the “Ragamala String Quartet”, a path-breaking project in which she composed and performed an Indian Raga in a Western String Quarter format. The world premiere was held at the Concertgebouw in November 2008 to a standing ovation. Saskia has also worked with musics and musicians from different genres like Jazz, Flamenco and Klezmer and composed music for Dance companies like the Ragamala Dance from Minneapolis.

A short collage of the Ragamala Dance company’s performance of SVA with music by Saskia and Shubhendra as well as many other artists from a performance in Minneapolis in May 2008 follows:

There are several other videos of Saskia on youtube, but I’ll let you folks browse.  Also, you notice while browsing that there are several other cellists doing Indian music on the cello (e.g. Nancy Kulkarni, Anup Biswas) and I’ll eventually put them in the Spotlight.  But for now, I’ll end the post with a short video clip of a workshop she did at the New Directions Cello Association festival some years back (also, an interview with Saskia may be found at their website).



Related links:

Thanks to John David Eriksen for bringing up Saskia last week.  Made my choice for a topic this week much easier!  😀

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