San Francisco's Home for Great Concerts since 1970

Program for Arjun K. Verma & Nilan Chaudhuri

Friday, August 5, 2022 at 8 pm

download a copy of this program here.

Arjun K. Verma, sitar
Nilan Chaudhuri, tabla

About the music

Indian classical music has its roots in the sacred, ancient traditions of India, and has evolved today into a sophisticated and beautiful art music, now performed and enjoyed by people the world over. Traditionally, it has been passed along from teacher to student in an oral tradition.

Broadly speaking, there are two main Indian classical traditions practiced today – Carnatic, or South Indian, and Hindustani, or North Indian. Though they share common roots and structure, the two are considered distinct styles of music, and generally even employ different instruments. For example, sitar (plucked strings) and tabla (two-piece drums) would be used in the North Indian style, whereas saraswati veena (plucked strings) and mridangam (two-headed barrel drum) would be used the South Indian style.

Indian Classical Music has a large repertoire of hundreds of active traditional melody-structures (raaga), with innumerable songs and instrumental pieces composed in each. On the rhythmic side, there are dozens of rhythm cycles (taala), with a huge quantity of fixed rhythmic solos composed in each.

Traditionally, this music served as a form of worship in the temples and courts. Originally developed with the intention of bringing about inner peace, harmony, and unity, this music is also highly virtuosic, expressing both the subtle and exhilarating sides of the human experience.

Notably, though these are highly-structured and complex ancient musical traditions, there is also a tremendous space for each performer to improvise and express his or her own feelings. Therefore, a performance of this music is authentically unique, spontaneously created on the spot, and never duplicated again.

In its complete rendition, a single piece of North Indian Classical Music can be as long or longer than a European symphony, and has a similar structure of large movements. When playing a raaga, performers generally pick and choose which of the traditional movements/sections to play. Some of the main movements/sections include:

Melodic Solo:

  • Alaap – Slow melody without any fixed rhythmic meter
  • Jor – Melody with simple meter, becoming increasingly faster and more rhythmically complex
  • Jhala – Fast section where rhythmic patterns come to the forefront.

With Drums:

  • Gat – Melodic and rhythmic theme around which performers play improvised, pre-composed, or semi-improvised variations. Often a single piece will contain more than one gat, in different tempos, such as:
  • Vilambit – slow tempo
  • Madhya – medium tempo
  • Drut – fast tempo
  • Saath Sangat – A subsection in which the drummer simultaneously imitates the rhythms of the melodic player(s), which are composed on-the-spot.
  • Jhala – similar to the solo section of the same name, but with the additional of fast drumming
  • Sawal Jawab – Question and answer section in which the musicians alternate short, improvised phrases, often in an imitative fashion. The phrases become shorter and shorter, converging into simultaneous playing.

About the musicians

Arjun Verma, sitarist, was trained by the legendary Maestro Ali Akbar Khan. With over three decades of performance experience, at venues including the United Nations (Geneva), the Fillmore (San Francisco), Fox Theater (Oakland), Pattee Arena (Monterey), the New School (New York), Birmingham Museum of Art (Birmingham), Prague Castle (Prague), and NBC Bay Area television (San Jose), Arjun has emerged with a unique voice on the sitar—both within the tradition of North Indian Classical Music, and through his innovative cross-genre collaborations.

Arjun has spent his entire life steeped in the tradition of North Indian Classical Music. The son of internationally performing sitarist Roop Verma, who was a disciple of Ali Akbar Khan and Ravi Shankar, Arjun began learning sitar from his father at age five.

As a teenager, Arjun was deeply inspired by the preeminent sarode maestro, Ali Akbar Khan, and he ultimately moved to the San Francisco Bay Area to study directly with Ali Akbar Khan for eight years. Since the Maestro’s passing in 2009, Arjun has continued his training under the able guidance of Ali Akbar Khan’s son, Alam Khan. Arjun has also received guidance from Smt. Annapurna Devi.

As a musician of the Maihar Gharana (style) of Hindustani classical music, Arjun’s playing is based on the music of Maestro Ali Akbar Khan. He has developed innovative sitar techniques inspired by the Maestro’s style, and is also influenced by sitarist Nikhil Banerjee. Arjun’s playing also incorporates musical elements drawn from his long apprenticeship with his father, Roop Verma. The combination of these influences results in a style encompassing the deeply contemplative as well as the exhilarating elements of Indian Music.

Arjun began performing at the age of seven, and has played concerts in the United States, Europe, and India, including performances with Pandit Swapan Chaudhuri, Sri Alam Khan, Pandit Sharda Sahai, Ustad Shabbir Nisar, Bob Weir, Salar Nader, George Brooks, Nilan Chaudhuri, Indranil Mallick, Anirban Roy Chowdhury, and members of the Houston and St. Louis Symphonies.

Arjun has performed in front of dignitaries including former United Nations Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali and spiritual leader Morari Bapu, and has been awarded a Mosaic Silicon Valley commissioning grant to compose for Philharmonia Baroque (2020—Sangam Arts), a Creative Work Fund grant (2018—Haas Foundation), and a Shenson Fellowship (2007—San Francisco Foundation) to support his work.

Combining western classical music with Indian classical music, Arjun was the featured sitar soloist for the world premieres of Jack Perla’s River of Light (2014—Houston Grand Opera), Shalimar the Clown (2016—Opera Theatre St. Louis), and Arjun’s own Bach in Bengal (2022—Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra). As a composer, Arjun has written commissioned works for documentary film, opera, and live performing arts, and has arranged numerous works of Indian classical music for ensembles of both Indian and non-Indian instrumentation.

In 2021, Arjun released a solo album, EPIPHANIES, exploring his very personal relationship with the sitar and Indian classical music. Recorded with cutting-edge studio technology, this album was released in HD and Ambisonic (surround) formats, raising the bar for the sound of the sitar. Arjun has also recorded with GRAMMY-winning jazz arranger & pianist John Beasley, in addition to numerous recordings for Disney television. Arjun’s music has received critical acclaim from leading publications, including The New York Times, Times of India, Sruti Magazine, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and the San Francisco Chronicle.

In addition to performing, Arjun teaches sitar and North Indian Classical Music at the Ali Akbar College of Music and the East-West School of Music.

Nilan Chaudhuri is a Bay Area based percussionist, educator, and performer. Initiated into the tradition of Indian Classical Music at the age of five by his father, Pandit Swapan Chaudhuri, Nilan has been performing as a tabla soloist and accompanist for nearly two decades. Prior to beginning his formal training with his father in 2000, Nilan studied tabla with Brad Van Cleve, Tim Witter, and Uttam Chakraborty, all of whom are senior disciples of his father.

Drawing inspiration from his father’s innovative approach to classical tabla solo, Nilan was determined from a young age to be a soloist. He presented his first public tabla recital at the age of eleven, at the Ali Akbar College of Music in San Rafael, in the presence of Maestro Ali Akbar Khan. It was during these formative years that Nilan was introduced to the world of Tabla accompaniment by Maestro Ali Akbar Khan, providing rhythmic support for his vocal and instrumental classes at the college.

As a teenager, Nilan was inspired by the Jazz-fusion band Oregon, a group spearheaded by his cousin, multi-percussionist, Collin Walcott. The band’s music influenced Nilan to broaden his rhythmic studies, and in 2003, he began learning the drum set with Sly Randolph, of Richmond, California. Today, Nilan experiments regularly with bridging the two styles of Indian and American drumming, and plays a hybrid kit that fuses together the tabla and drum set, and incorporates electronic percussion instruments like the Roland HandSonic, and Ableton Push. Since 2007, Nilan has had the incredible opportunity to attend tabla-centric rhythm workshops conducted by Ustad Zakir Hussain. He has also attended South Indian percussion classes taught by ghatam Vidwan Subhash Chandran, kanjira Vidwan Ganesh Kumar, and Jim Santi Owen.

Since his debut performance in concert with his father in Queens, NY, in 2005, Nilan has had the privilege of sharing the stage with some of Hindustani Classical Music’s most celebrated artists, like Ustad Amjad Ali Khansahib, Ustad Shujaat Khan, Pt. Ramesh Misra, Pt. Debashish Bhattacharya, and Alam Khan, at venues such as Carnegie Hall, The Fillmore, The Monterey Pop Festival, The Richmond Folk Festival, Fox Theater, The San Francisco War Memorial Opera House, and The Kennedy Center. His genre-bending collaborations include performances, projects, and recordings with the likes of conductor Michael Morgan and the Fremont Symphony, pop star Beck, sitarist Arjun Verma, sarodist Manik Khan, violinist Raaginder Singh Momi, The Toronto Tabla Ensemble, George Brooks, Dennis Chambers, Miles Schon, and DJ Teeko. In addition to maintaining a rigorous performing schedule, Nilan teaches Tabla throughout the Bay Area as a faculty member at the Ali Akbar College of Music, in San Rafael, and as the Director of Percussion at Chitresh Das Institute, in San Mateo. He also serves as an archivist at the Ali Akbar College of Music, where the construction of a musical archive spanning 40 years of his Father’s work, is underway. It’s his lifelong mission to contribute to the preservation and enrichment of Indian Classical percussion.

Old First Concerts has volunteer opportunities available!

Our concerts rely on the generosity of volunteers to assist with simple tasks like:


distributing programs

box office

set-up and clean-up

Scheduling is flexible — you choose when to work! We especially need helping hands for our Friday and Saturday night performances.

An excellent opportunity for students, seniors, or anyone who possesses a love for music!

If you’d like to consider volunteering with Old First Concerts, please contact for more information.