In an installment of the Yale Center for British Art’s “at home” series on Sept. 16, world-renowned tabla player Samir Chatterjee performed a Hindustani raga — a form of classical Indian music which primarily consists of improvisation. 

“It’s very individualistic and a product of the moment at that point,” Chatterjee said. “I went deep into myself and my technique, my expertise, and my skill brought me the freedom to express my inner feelings.” 

YCBA’s “at home” series invites curators and notable artists to perform and discuss their work for a virtual audience. It is composed of two parts: a live Artists-in-Conversation Zoom webinar and a pre-recorded performance segment that premiers monthly on the YCBA website.

Each installment of the “at home” series is free; the pre-recorded performances are always accessible on the YCBA website, but the conversation webinars require advance registration. All programs are closed captioned.

“It is important to continue to engage our audiences in ways similar to how we have always functioned,” said Jane Nowosadko, head of Public Programs at the YCBA. “Venues world-wide have shut down indefinitely, so providing performing artists with other opportunities and avenues for their artistic practice is essential.”

Courtney J. Martin, director of the YCBA, saw opportunity in remote performances. Though she looks forward to the return of in-person programming, online performances have the potential to reach broader audiences. Martin also noted that this created an overwhelmingly positive response to the program. 

Chatterjee’s performance was recorded at the onset of the pandemic; since then, public reception of COVID-19 has shifted. Chatterjee hopes the audience recalls earlier “moments of uncertainty” while listening to the performance.

The performance was also early in the morning; sounds from the street can be heard in the background. “It was almost at the moment when the sun was coming up, 5:30 [a.m.] in the morning, and there is a particular type of energy that you feel — the time from darkness to the light — and I absorbed that energy quite a bit,” Chatterjee said. 

Stillness also inspired Chatterjee’s performance style. As COVID-19 spread across the globe, facilities including schools and workplaces were shut down; for many, there was a lull in the pace of life. 

“I really enjoy being a seeker of the inner truth, peace and tranquility,” Chatterjee said. “You know, there is a saying that you can see the point at the bottom of the swimming pool only when the water is still. That stillness was an inevitable effect of the pandemic.”

Chatterjee also remarked that reduced human presence benefited the natural environment. He said the Calcutta skies have not been so clear in decades.   

The next event in the “at home: Artists in Conversation” series is a webinar on Sept. 25 featuring British artist Hew Locke and YCBA’s Martina Droth — the deputy director of Research, Exhibitions, and Publications and a curator of sculpture. On Oct. 15, “at home: Performances” will continue with an installment from Nicholas McGegan, a Baroque specialist and conductor, titled “A Theatre of Tragedies: The Plague in Seventeenth-Century England.”

MARGOT LEE
VIVIAN ZHAO