Abhay Rustum Sopori

Santoor Maestro & Music Composer

Versatile is one word that describes Abhay Rustum Sopori, for he is the youngest Santoor maestro, youngest classical musician to compose and conduct orchestras and folk & Sufi ensembles, and has also been the youngest recipient of all the awards that he has received including the prestigious Sangeet Natak Akademi’s first ‘Ustad Bismillah Khan Yuva Puraskar’, 2006 and ‘J&K State Award’ (the highest Civilian Award of the State of Jammu & Kashmir, 2011) in recognition of his outstanding contribution and achievements in the field of music. He has also been honoured with the prestigious ‘Sangeet Gaurav Award’, 2015, ‘Madras Academy Award’, 2014, ‘Sangeet Mani Award’, 2014, ‘Sabzaar Award of Excellence’, 2013, ‘Kashmir Kirti Samman’, 2012, KECSS Award’, 2011, ‘Glory of India Award’, 2010, ‘Best Citizens of India Award’, 2010, ‘Sangeet Shree Award’, 2010, ‘Bharat Shiromani Award’, 2009, ‘Ma Sharika Samman’, 2009, ‘National Dogri Award’, 2008, ‘Sangeet Bhushan Award’, 2007, ‘Excellence Award’, 2007, ‘Young India Award’, 2006, ‘Juenjo Korean International Heritage Award’, 2005, ‘Kalawant Samman’, 2004, etc. Abhay’s name also features in various Biographical-note Volumes like “Famous India’s Who’s Who”, “Asian American Who’s Who”, “Asia Pacific Who’s Who”, “Asian Admirable Achievers”, etc.

A graduate in Management and Computers with Masters in Music, Abhay was born in Srinagar and inherited a profound sense of music from his fabled Sufiana Gharana of Kashmir, the exclusive traditional Santoor family with its roots spanning over nine generations over more than 300 years. Abhay learnt music under the traditional Guru-Shishya Parampara from his grandfather Pandit Shamboo Nath Sopori, the great Master musician hailed as the ‘Father of Music’ in Jammu and Kashmir, and from his father Pandit Bhajan Sopori, the legendary Santoor virtuoso and music composer.

Abhay has had the honour of being the only contemporary composer of India whose composition “Haftrang”, as a tribute to Kashmir, has been conducted by the legendary music maestro Mr. Zubin Mehta before his presentations of classic legends like Beethoven, Haydn and Tchaikovsky giving international recognition to the music of Kashmir and creating history in the world of music. The composition was performed by the Bavarian State Orchestra from Munich, German, one of the top most and the biggest orchestra of the world, together with Abhay’s Kashmiri ensemble. Abhay also had the honour to be the first ever composer & conductor to share the stage and conduct along with the legendary maestro Mr. Zubin Mehta.

His other international collaborations include presentations with the world renowned Vienna Boys Choir, Moroccan Lute maestro Haj Younis, Iranian Santurist Dr. Darius Saghafi, American Dulcimer player Malcom Dalgish and others.

Abhay has participated in prestigious festivals across the world and has more than 35 notable releases to his credit. He also has the credit of releasing the first International albums of J&K.

Abhay has composed music for a number of National and International Award  winning films like ‘Bub’, ‘Ziyarat’, etc. including ‘Mahatma’, a film by Government of India on Mahatma Gandhi, presented at the ‘United Nations’ marking the first International Non-violence Day. He also composed the song “Aao Kadam Badhayain” for raising relief funds for the Kashmir earthquake victims. The song featured some of the most renowned and legendary classical musicians of India and went on to become the greatest musical hit of Jammu and Kashmir. He has also served as the youngest Visiting Faculty at the University of Massachusetts (Amherst, USA). Abhay also happens to be the first Indian Classical musician to be invited at the prestigious International conference TEDx.

A gifted and prodigious musician, Abhay continues to innovate and experiment with the Santoor further extending its dimension. In keeping with his lineage he has established the concept of ‘Gayan-Vadan Baaj’ in the Indian classical system and introduced the ‘Open String Concept’ on the Santoor together with the ‘Enhanced Sustain Technique’. He has also invented, designed and introduced a new 30-stringed instrument ‘Sur Santoor’. Abhay has revived the old Sufiana Tarana compositions of his predecessors and adopted them in the Indian Classical scenario and also composed and introduced new Khayal compositions. He has also composed and introduced a new Raga named ‘Nirmalkaunce’ dedicated to Her Holiness Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi.

Some of hallmarks of Abhay’s performances are mellifluous playing, lightning tempo, clarity and accuracy of Raga exposition and adoption of the Sopori Baaj (style) the unique format of Santoor playing created by Pandit Bhajan Sopori. The Sopori Baaj incorporates the essential technical nuances of both the Gayaki (vocal) and Tantrakari (instrumental) Angs (aspects) such as ‘Meend’, ‘Gamak’, ‘Glides’, ‘Taan’, ‘Bol’, ‘Chhand’ and ‘Laya’ patterns, which are absolutely essential for the correct rendering of Raga-Sangeet in the true Indian Classical tradition. Performing with the accompaniment of the Pakhawaj is also a special characteristic of his Baaj. Another remarkable and unique quality of his presentation is that he sings the composition along with its instrumental rendering reviving the traditional Santoor playing.

Abhay has carried forward the great legacy of his family in propagating and promoting the Indian culture globally. He has the credit for creating a Cultural Revolution in the Jammu and Kashmir State bringing the youth together through music. His efforts and initiatives have been path-breaking creating a new generation of music connoisseurs and bringing more recognition to the art and culture of the country. He has not only established himself as one of the most prominent musicians of the present generation but simultaneously promoted numerous upcoming and talented musicians of the country.