Nishat Khan is the genuine article, a seriously important Indian musician. Gustav Holst was fascinated by the Idea of India as an exotic dream. Raj imperialism trivialized Indian culture. On the other hand, Tagore made Westerners aware of the higher levels of Indian culture. Holst wasn't alone in his fascination with things Eastern. Think Zemlinsky 's Lyric Symphony (read more here). Zemlinsky's piece works so well because he doesn't even pretend to write orientalism but writes what it makes him feel. Holst's Indra (1903) sounds so completely of its period that tt might have disappeared entirely but for the composer's reputation. Perhaps we were only hearing it because the BBC is desperate to jazz up the occasion. The presenters get hysterical because Radio 3 is doing a joint event with The Asian Network. Better that they should give us real music instead. In comparison, Nishat Khan's Sitar Concerto sound better already.
Ralph Vaughan Williams's Symphony no 2 (London) sat oddly with Holst and Nishat Khan. Perhaps the logic was that, if you're going to do Tourism in Music, you might as well throw in a historic Trip Around London. As such, it was probably quite entertaining, though the performance was pretty bland. David Atherton (who is familiar with Chinese music – he was music director of the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra for many years) is an excellent conductor but the BBC National Orchestra of Wales isn't the most adventurous of the BBC stable of orchestras. For me, RVW 2 works not as travelogue but as mood piece, evoking abstract emotions like loss and regret.