Maestro Ali Akbar Khan passed away peacefully on the evening of June 18, 2009, surrounded by his family and close disciples. He was 87 years old and had been suffering from kidney disease for several years.
Khansahib’s long life and career spanned epochs and continents. He was one of the last “court musicians” of the old India and was the first Indian musician to record in the West. Yehudi Menuhin, who invited him to perform and record in the USA in 1955, called him “an absolute genius – perhaps the greatest musician in the world.”
Ali Akbar Khan was the only son of Allauddin Khan, a legendary musician who revolutionized Indian instrumental music and trained some of India’s most renowned musicians, including his son and Ravi Shankar. His training was extremely rigorous, and he sometimes had to practice up to 18 hours a day. His concert debut at the All India Music Conference in Allahabad in 1939 opened a new chapter in Indian instrumental music by redefining the way the sarod is played. He was recognized both as a consummate classicist and innovator on the sarod, a 25-stringed skin faced lute. He will be remembered as the single most influential master of this instrument.
He received all of India’s highest music awards and was considered a “national treasure”. In the USA he was honored with the MacArthur “genius award” and the National Heritage Fellowship, which was presented to him by Hillary Clinton at the White House in 1997.
Khansahib opened the first Ali Akbar College of Music in Calcutta in 1956. Then with the great wave of interest for Indian music in the West, he opened his school in San Rafael, California in 1967, where he taught for the next 42 years. He trained thousands of students from the West and India at this institute.
Basel, Switzerland, was fortunate to have benefited from Maestro Khan’s yearly visits for more than 20 years. In 1985 he opened the Ali Akbar College of Music – Switzerland, directed by his disciple Ken Zuckerman, and he conducted annual seminars which attracted students from all over Europe. Although ill health prevented him from coming to Basel after 2003, the College continues to promote his work with ongoing classes and yearly seminars.
In 2005, on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the Ali Akbar College in Basel, he wrote, “Many years ago my father gave me the mission to spread this music “as far as the sun and moon shine.” This has been my life-long work and I don’t want it to die. It is of great importance that my closest students and disciples, like Ken, continue this work in the future. Therefore I ask you all to give him your good wishes and support to continue this mission so that the great tradition of Indian classical music can be passed on to future generations. I would also like to thank the city of Basel and the Music Academy of Basel for all its help and support during the past 20 years. I have always felt very welcome in Basel and have many fond memories of my visits here.”
The Annual Seminars regularly attract up to eighty students from more than ten countries. The seminars are open to all students, from beginning to advanced levels, and instruction is offered in sitar, sarod, tabla, vocal, theory and history. The seminars with Ali Akbar Khan and Swapan Chaudhuri have offered a unique opportunity for students to work with two of India’s most renowned performers and teachers.
Visiting Lecturers - The Ali Akbar College regularly invites some of India’s finest musicians to give seminars and workshops. Over the years some of the guest lecturers have included Lakshmi Shankar, Alla Rakha, Zakir Hussain, Hariprasad Chaurasia, Sultan Khan, Pandit Jasraj, Prof. George Ruckert, Sankar P. Chowdhury and the Gundecha Brothers.
Concerts – In addition to annual concerts with Ali Akbar Khan and Swapan Chaudhuri, the Ali Akbar College has invited some of India’s top virtuosos to perform in Basel. These have included Bhimsen Joshi, Nikhil Banerjee, Mohiuddin Dagar, V.G. Jog, Alla Rakha, Kishori Amonkar, Shivkumar Sharma, Hariprasad Chaurasia, Ram Narayan, Sultan Khan, Swapan Chaudhuri, Zakir Hussain, Anindo Chatterjee, Ajoy Chakraborty, Buddhaditya Mukherjee, Parween Sultana, Ronu Mazumdar, the Gundecha Brothers and many others.
During the last 20 years, the Ali Akbar College has given training to over 1500 students from more than 14 countries, and has been an active organizer in presenting over 180 concerts of India’s finest virtuosos!
Music Academy of Basel - Since its founding in 1985, the Ali Akbar College has worked closely in cooperation with the Music Academy of Basel. The annual seminars with Maestro Khan and Swapan Chaudhuri have regularly taken place on the campus of the Music Academy. These events, as well as concerts, workshops and some of the regularly scheduled introductory classes, are presented in cooperation with the “Studio für Musik der Kulturen – SMK” (Studio for musics of the world’s cultures), a department of the Music Academy which also presents concerts and workshops of music traditions from around the world.
Television – The Ali Akbar College was the subject of a 1-hour documentary film produced by the Swiss-Italian Televison Network, entitled Il Filo d’Oro: Ali Akbar Khan – La Strada Del Suono, (The thread of gold: Ali Akbar Khan – the highway of sound), directed by Werner Weick. The film, which received high praise from critics, gives a close-up portrait of Ali Akbar Khan, from his early childhood under the tutelage of his father, to his recent years of work in Basel, as a teacher and in performance. Also, the College’s popular “Tabla for Kids” seminar was featured in the childrens’ television program on DRS 2 “KIDZ”.
“My father learned from a great teacher and we always keep the traditional things, like a father to son, or students and disciples. Therefore I want to keep what my father learned, I don’t want it to die. It must spread all over the world.“
Ustad Ali Akbar Khan