Naresh Sohal was born in 1939 in Punjab, Northern India. From an early age, he showed an interest in popular music, his tastes being influenced by the broadcasts of All India Radio and Radio Ceylon. By the time he reached college, he had acquired a harmonica, and become a versatile performer of rock and roll and Indian film songs, once even entertaining the President of India. His fist encounter with Western classical music came in Bombay, where he heard Beethoven's 'Eroica' symphony on the radio during the monsoon. It had a profound effect. In 1962, he left India for the UK, intending to find a way to learn to write western music.
Sohal is largely self-educated, but pays tribute to the support he received from composer and teacher Jeremy Dale Roberts. He became a copyist at Boosey and Hawks, and began composing in earnest. He had his first work, Asht Prahar, performed at an SPNM concert in 1970. Since then, he has gone on to produce over sixty works. These include the vast 'Wanderer' for chorus, orchestra and baritone soloist; 'Gautama Buddha', a ballet on the life of Buddha, performed in Houston Texas and at the Edinburgh International Festival in 1989; a chamber opera, 'Madness Lit by Lightning'; violin and viola concertos and a range of chamber works. Sohal is the first composer of western music ever to use Panjabi as the text in some of his works. He has written a number of scores for film and TV, and even produced a collection of contemporary ghazals.
Sohal's works have been performed both nationally and internationally. Artistes who have performed his work include Jane Manning and Sally Silver, sopranos; David Wilson-Johnson, baritone; Xue Wei, violin; Barry Buy, double bass; Rivka Golani, viola; Rohan de Saram, 'cello; the ConTempo, Dante and Edinburgh quartets; the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under Sir Andrew Davis, and the New York Philharmonic under Zubin Mehta. Recent performances of his work have taken place at the Dartington and Spitalfields festivals. Last year, he was a guest at Stanford University where his 'Songs of the Five Rivers' was performed.
In 1987, Sohal was awarded a Padma Shri (Order of the Lotus) by the Indian government for his services to music. He currently lives in London where he is working on a piece for orchestra and narrator which will be premiered in 2008 by the Israel Philharmonic under Zubin Mehta. The work focuses on the central message of the 'Bhagavad Gita'.
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