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It looks like a piano and sounds like a sitar, and only a handful of musicians in Delhi know how to play it. The harpsichord has both fascinated and eluded Delhi's western classical music buffs. Today, one of the city's best-known Bharatanatyam dancers, Justin McCarthy, reveals his other passion — for the harpsichord — during a duet with Singapore-based Douglas Amrine at the India International Centre.
In a harpsichord, the strings are plucked rather than pressed. "It sounds a lot like the sitar or harp," says McCarthy, "So when people hear the sounds of a stringed instrument coming out from a large keyboard instrument, they are astounded." He assumes that this is the reason that the instrument is not very popular in India.
Much of the 18th century harpsichord music was written in suites (orchestral pieces to be performed in concerts). For this evening's recital, McCarthy and Amrine have created two large suites by mixing pieces by Johann Sebastian Bach, Antoine Forqueray and Claude Balbastre among others. "People think of Bach as someone God-like. We have tried to portray him as he was in the era that he actually wrote the music, when he was not only surrounded, but also influenced by his contemporaries. There was a great deal of influence of other musicians on him," explains McCarthy.
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