A Different Look at a Concert with a Difference – but a Remarkable Feat

Some years back, I wrote an article titled “What makes for an interesting concert?” Although it was part of a concert review, I was doing some introspection while trying to find a solution to that question. I should have waited. Prince Rama Varma’s concert at the Krishna Temple, Muscat, on 25th February, under the auspices of Nadopasana, provided the answer unambiguously. I came away immensely satisfied, and can now understand not only what makes a concert interesting, but also what gives a sense of fulfillment to the discerning rasika. And this, despite the concert not having an RTP. A remarkable feat indeed.

The success of a concert, I realized, lies in the ability of the main artist to communicate with the audience, and not just by a show of his repertoire or virtuosity. Rama Varma and his team were sitting on the stage. But for the audience, they may as well have been sitting in their midst, talking, making eye contact, and wholesomely reaching out, to almost everyone in the audience of over 400 people.

The proof was there for all to see. No one, not a single child, moved during the entire concert, no phones rang, and extra chairs were pulled to accommodate curious entrants to the temple hall who were drawn into Varma’s enchanting web of music mixed with conversation. He introduced every kriti with an anecdote that took you an immense step closer to the creative instinct of the composer. He has a sense of spontaneous, inoffensive humor which he uses liberally in all his concerts. He can play on words like few others in his field. (for example, he urged people to Google the meaning of various keertanas, gently reminding those present that they were not missing out by skipping a Tamil play (based on Google) that was going on at a nearby venue). I think that by the time he was done, he had aroused the interest of many students and rasikas into exploring the world of composers, sahithyas and meanings of the thousands of wonderful kritis now extant.

Not for nothing is he well known for bringing rare kritis to the concert platform, in keeping with similar work done by his esteemed guru, Sri Balamurali Krishna. How many would have heard Mali’s immortal “magudi” piece in oral form? We were the lucky few last Saturday.

Rama Varma

Rama Varma had accepted a request from the local organizers and came to the city nearly four days prior to the concert. He gave of his fullest during this time: three elaborate classes for aspiring musicians of the city (age range 7 to 71!). He indulged a mixed audience to a lecture demonstration on Indian classical music and its position viz. other forms of world music. The lec-dem was at the Indian Embassy, Muscat, and the brain child of the ambassador of India.

The students he taught had been forewarned that they may be asked to sing along at the end of the main concert, but he still managed to make it all exciting: He announced to the audience that he had “discovered” a few people knew some of the songs he liked to sing, so would they please join him from wherever they were sitting? It was a kind of a musical Flash-Mob, if you like, and one that endeared him to every single person in the hall – his students and their parents (or children!) beaming with pride, the unknowing amongst the audience pleasantly surprised, and the whole hall reverberating to an orchestra of classical Carnatic music in its purest form!

When it was all over, as all concerts must, there was a deep sense of longing in the hearts of all rasikas, lay and connoisseur alike. It was reflected by the most asked question when people queued up to meet him and his team – when do we see you again?

I will break from the standard pattern of listing and elaborating on the nuances of each kriti he sang, for two good reasons: I have dwelled long enough on other aspects of this memorable concert. More importantly, Varma generously allows all of his concerts to be uploaded to YouTube, and it would be presumptuous of me to explain what was good and what was excellent – everyone is welcome to their own opinion. I notice that already some noble soul has uploaded the flash-mob bits at youtube.com. I must hasten to add though that the success of this master craftsman’s concert was to a large extent because of his longtime associates – Sri SR Vinu on the violin and Dr G Babu on the mridangam, both “musicians who are magicians” in their own right.

Author: Dr Koduvayur M Harikrishnan

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2 thoughts on “A Different Look at a Concert with a Difference – but a Remarkable Feat”

  1. Indeed an impressive review.
    A concert review with a Difference as the Concert itself with a Difference.
    Well one could put it as “What Oft was thought of but never so well expressed” as for the content. Or with an impishness say about the length of the article to be as that of as of a skirt “short enough to be attractive and long enough to cover the subject”.
    The reflections on the event is indeed like that of an army operation with Surgical Precision of a surgeon.
    Good – in short an interesting reading.

  2. Namaskaram Harikrishnan Garu,

    It’s a long pending compliment that i wanted to pass on after reading your review.

    Such a beautiful review you have written..Straight out of heart.

    It is true that , varmaji’s concerts are unique in their own way without expected stunts that we see from a regular Concert.

    I am no writer but after watching couple of his concerts LIVE, i was pulled strongly towards writing a review as an ardent rasika. There is always a magical calmness and soothing effect from his Concerts. Those ragas and compositions haunt us day after day inspiring us to crave for more on his website. Slowly and unknowingly we will be pulled into his ocean of music. To me, Carnatic music is different from Varmaji’s music. I enjoy the way he presents compositions with surtle gamakas bringing up the flavour of the raga , bhava of the composer.

    He crosses the language barriers with such an ease. That is why i guess he has wide range of fans from all corners of the world !!!

    Next best aspect is, he doesn’t compete with accompanists on stage inturn gives lot of space and encouragement. That’s a rare phenomenon. In most of the concerts, that harmony is missing. Everyone are doing their role and proving their prowess independently​. That connection is missing. But Varmaji makes it a visual treat for all of us every time. 🙂

    I guess iam re writing everything you have written.but once i start off on this topic, words just flow flow..:)

    Once again, enjoyed your special review !! Thanks for sharing.

    Regards,
    Jyostna Kompalli

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