Pradeep Ratnayake, The supreme virtuoso performer | Sunday Observer
World Sitar Festival

Pradeep Ratnayake, The supreme virtuoso performer

16 August, 2020

Professor Pradeep Ratnayake, the internationally acclaimed sitarist achieved another milestone in his career when he participated on line in the World Sitar Festival on August 15. For his 15 minute performance, he played Alap, Jod and Jhala on Rag Malkauns, all the sitarists having been asked to play an alap, the slow meditative part of a raga, of their choosing.

This on line festival was presented by Swaranjali, founded by sitarist Subrata De, in association with Pracheen Kala Kendra and Gunijankhana and broadcast globally at 5.30 p.m Indian Standard Time (IST). It was dedicated to all Maestros and Gurus. Pradeep Ratnayake received the distinction of being the only Sri Lankan sitarist to be invited to play at the festival. Akhilesh Jha was the convenor/curator of the event.

The sitarist posted on social media, “Dear friends, I am honoured and delighted to be part of this festival, representing Sri Lanka among some of the most distinguished sitar players in the world today.

All the sitarists are representing their gharanas. I represent the Maihar Gharana, founded by Ustad Alauddin Khan, which is Pandit Ravi Shankar’s gharana too. There are 35 sitarists from 15 countries here.”

Ratnayake is the Professor and the Head of the Department of Music and Creative Technology at the University of Sri Jayewardenepura. He held the post of Head of Languages, Cultural Studies and Performing Arts at the same University.

As a creative sitarist, Ratnayake is famous among local and international audiences and well recognised for his unique creations fusing traditional ragas with other genres like western classical music and jazz.

Kuveni Asna is a four movement double concerto for sitar and cello commissioned by the Neubrandenburg Philharmonic Orchestra which premiered in Germany in 2010.

Other notable works include Serendip, produced in Japan by BAJ records with Ratnayake on sitar and jazz pianist Prof. Masahiko Satoh on piano. This is the first classical CD produced internationally with the combination of the sitar and the piano.

Rare phenomenon

The late Dr.Lester James Peiris said, “Pradeep Ratnayake is a rare phenomenon in any country, the supreme virtuoso performer of his chosen instrument, the sitar-as well as a young composer opening up new worlds of sound by the fusion of Eastern and Western music.”

Writer Malinda Seneviratne said, “He is obviously a man who is comfortable in many musical homes and cultures, but we can be sure that from somewhere in those secret spaces where the sapthasvara (notes of the scale) resides Pradeep will always gather the music signature that is ours, as appropriate to audience and occasion.” Ratnayake has performed at many venues of international repute, including the Carnegie Hall in the USA, Asia Society New York, Vienna Musikverein, the UN Office in Geneva and the Walt Disney Concert Hall, USA.

Pradeepanjalee, his unusual and electrifying series of fusion music concerts have received wide acclaim locally and globally.

He received his Bachelors and Masters degrees from the University of Visva Bharati in Shantiniketan, India and scored the highest marks ever obtained for the sitar in his BA till then. He spent seven and a half years at Shanthiniketan.

For his Masters, he received a scholarship from The Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR). His guru and mentor was Professor Indranil Bhattacahrya, the last disciple of maestro Ustad Allauddin Khan.

As a Fulbright scholar, Pradeep Ratnayake spent two years at Columbia University, USA studying music technology and jazz.

To Pradeep Ratnayake goes the distinction of bringing the first international award for film musical direction to Sri Lanka.

He won the Best Film Director Award for the film Sri Siddhatha Gauthama at the Buddhist Film festival in Vietnam in 2014.

Passion in music

Ratnayake’s passion in music started at the age of five when he started learning the Hawaiian guitar. His parents were musically talented. At around five or six years, Pradeep’s interest was piqued by the Esraj and he attempted trying it out without the bow. Soon, his father gave him a bow.

From here, Ratnayake graduated to learning the sitar under the tutelage of D.A. Devage.

During his school days at three famous Colombo schools: St. Thomas Prep School, D.S.Senanayake College and Mahanama Colleges, Pradeep was involved in Eastern music activities.

At the age of 10, in 1977, Pradeep had a rare opportunity of playing before the great Pandit Ravi Shankar who was impressed with the child sitarist. Other early achievements in his career include his first concert at the Colombo Museum theatre and first radio broadcast on Prof. Ediriweera Sarachchandra’s Kalpana program.

Pradeep is also involved in a World Bank funded research project on traditional Sri Lankan (folk) music. He and his team of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences of the University of Sri Jayaewardenepura are collaborating with the Faculty of Applied Science and the Faculty of Technology on the project.

For his services to music, Prof. Ratnayake has received the State Award and the Bunka Award from Japan.