Naresh Sohal

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Naresh Sohal (18 September 1939 – 30 April 2018) [1] was an Indian-born composer of western classical music. [2] He is the first composer in this tradition ever to make settings of texts in Sanskrit, Punjabi and Bengali (although he has also made many settings in English). He was the first composer ever to be offered an annual bursary by the Arts Council of Great Britain. Sohal was the first Non Resident Indian (NRI) ever to be awarded a Padma Shri (Order of the Lotus) by the Indian Government. [3]


Although Sohal wrote in the Western idiom, his extensive range of compositions shows a long-standing and serious commitment to the insights of Hindu philosophy.

Life and career

Sohal was born 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. He did not come from a musical family, but his father, Des Raj, was an Urdu poet of some reputation and poets often held gatherings at the family home. By the time Sohal reached college, he had acquired a harmonica and become a versatile performer of rock and roll and Indian film songs, and once entertained the President of India. His first encounter with Western classical music came in Bombay, where he heard Beethoven's Eroica Symphony on the radio during the monsoon. He determined to learn more about how such music was created. His resolve hardened when an Indian musician refused to teach him Indian classical music on the mouth organ. In 1962, he left India for the United Kingdom, intending to find a way to learn to write western music. [4]

Sohal is largely self-educated, but received support from composer and teacher Jeremy Dale Roberts. He became a copyist at publisher Boosey & Hawks and began composing in earnest. He had his first work, Asht Prahar, performed at a Society for the Promotion of New Music (SPNM) concert in 1970. Since then, he has gone on to produce over sixty works. These include the Poems of Tagore, the vast The Wanderer for chorus, orchestra and baritone soloist which premiered at the BBC Proms in 1982; [5] 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. He has written a number of scores for film and TV, and produced a collection of contemporary ghazals. [6]

The premiere of Sohal's second Proms commission, his 45-minute The Cosmic Dance, took place on 2 August 2013. [7] [8]

Critical analysis

Critics have referred to Sohal's style as follows:-

Sohal's works have been performed both nationally and internationally. Artistes who have performed them 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 in the UK. In 2006, he was a guest of the Pan-Asian Music Festival at Stanford University, USA, 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 lived in London where one of his final works was on a piece for narrator and orchestra. The work focuses on the central message of the Bhagavad Gita which concerns fulfilling one's responsibilities in the face of difficult choices.


  1. [ dead link ]
  2. Nath, Dipanita (18 January 2010). "Music of War & Peace". The Indian Express . Retrieved 8 August 2010.
  3. "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 10 May 2013. Retrieved 17 December 2010.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  4. "Naresh Sohal – Biography". Retrieved 30 March 2016.
  5. "BBC – Proms 1982 Prom 39 – event – BBC Proms". BBC Music Events. Retrieved 30 March 2016.
  6. [ dead link ]
  7. "From Bollywood to Big Bang". Financial Times. Retrieved 30 March 2016.
  8. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 25 May 2013. Retrieved 10 June 2013.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)

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