International performers Ustad Tari Khan, a tabla player originally from Pakistan, and Purbayan Chatterjee, a sitar player from India, joined forces on stage for the first time in Milpitas on June 25.
Khan has inspired generations of musicians, including the young Chatterjee, 35, who grew up listening to his music. The two did not rehearse ahead of time, but improvised on stage. Improvisation, a concept also found in jazz, is a common characteristic of north Indian classical music.
South Indian classical music is more rigid, said Chatterjee, perhaps because minstrels from northern Indian traveled to the southern region and preserved the traditions, while north India had Muslim and Persian influences.
The songs, known as ragas, go back thousands of years, he said, but compositions within the ragas have been around for the past hundred years, or even recently. Musicians improvise within the perimeters.
"Our music is one of the most secular things we have in our country," said the Calcutta-based Chatterjee. "It really has no religion. It is religion on its own."
Khan agreed. "Music is life," he said.
Basant Bahar is a nonprofit volunteer group that brings Indian classical performers to the south bay. Chatterjee came through the Jain Center of Northern California on his second to last day in the United States before returning to India.
For audience member, Charu Tosh Dixit, who is from Lucknow, India, but has lived in Santa Clara since 1993, it was an opportunity to see the performers in person. Until then, he had only seen Khan's performances on YouTube, he said.
"It's definitely been an electric atmosphere," he said. "And, of course, expectations are really high because everyone knows about the quality of the players."