Imrat Khan to perform Indian classical music March 29

World-renowned sitar player based in St. Louis

World-renowned sitar player Imrat Khan, a distinguished artist-in-residence in Washington University’s Department of Music in Arts & Sciences, will perform a concert of Indian classical music at 7 p.m. Saturday, March 29.

The performance, which is free and open to the public, will take place in the 560 Music Center’s E. Desmond Lee Concert Hall.

Imrat Khan
Imrat Khan

The 560 Music Center is located at 560 Trinity Ave., at the intersection with Delmar Boulevard. For more information, call (314) 935-5566 or email

Khan, who will be joined by tabla player Jon Nellen, is widely recognized as one of the giants of Indian classical music, celebrated for his virtuosity, musicality and inventive wit.

Born in Calcutta in 1936, Khan is the senior-most member of the famous Etawa Gharana (musical dynasty), which includes a long line of illustrious Ustads (master musicians) dating back to the 16th-century court of Mogul Emperor Akbar. In addition to his renown as a sitar player, The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians describes Khan as “the greatest living exponent of the surbahar, a bass version of the sitar developed by his great-grandfather Sahabdad Khan.”

Khan’s grandfather, Imdad Khan (c. 1848-1920), and father, Enayat Khan (1895-1938), were leading sitar and surbahar players of their day, as was his elder brother, Vilayat Khan (1924-2004), who guided Imrat’s early training. In 2006 Khan’s four sons — also musicians — joined their father in performances at Queen Elizabeth Hall in London and at the Tata Theatre in Mumbai to celebrate Khan’s 70th birthday.

Khan has toured extensively in India and the United States as well as throughout Europe, Asia and South American. In 1971 he became the first Indian musician to play on a BBC Proms concert. In 1979 he presented Europe’s first all-night concert of Indian classical music, at the National Gallery in Berlin. He has recorded more than two-dozen albums and his work has been featured in films by Satyajit Ray and James Ivory, among others.

In 1988 Kahn received India’s highest musical honor, the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award. He joined the faculty of Washington University in 1990 and currently resides in St. Louis.

Indian classical music is often likened to jazz, in that it is unwritten and thus improvised in concert. However, this “improvisation” is developed according to rules and traditions that are no less rigorous than those observed by classical Western composers. Training for Indian musicians usually begins in early childhood and always involves the oral transmission of the artistic heritage known as gharana, or “house of tradition,” directly from teacher to pupil.

The Indian sitar is a long-necked fretted instrument with multiple strings, some used for melodic purposes, others used to create a drone. Sitar performances are noted for the use of rapid plucking techniques and are frequently accompanied by the tabla, a paired-type of North Indian drums.

The music itself is comprised of three essential elements: the sur, or the pitch and tone of a musical note; the tala, which defines the metric and rhythmic construction; and, most importantly, the raga, which refers to the scales or ordering of notes around which the music is formed. Performances typically open with a lone sitar, which is gradually joined by the tabla and other instruments as the melody develops.

Calendar Summary

WHO: Imrat Khan, sitar; Jon Nellen, tabla.

WHAT: Concert of Indian classical music

WHEN: 7 p.m. Saturday, March 29

WHERE: E. Desmond Lee Concert Hall, 560 Music Center, 560 Trinity Ave., near the intersection of Trinity and Delmar Boulevard

COST: Free and open to the public

SPONSORS: Washington University’s Department of Music in Arts & Sciences.

INFORMATION: (314) 935-5566 or email