Artist Profiles: Dr. L. Subramaniam

Dr. L. Subramaniam

Dr. L. Subramaniam is India’s violin icon. He has recorded, played and composed a substantial variety of music including Karnatic (south Indian), Western classical, jazz, world fusion and world music. Dr. L. Subramaniam has collaborated with a wide range of artists including Yehudi Menuhin, Stephane Grappelli, Jean-Pierre Rampal, Herbie Hancock, Larry Coryell and Ravi Coltrane.

Lakshminarayan Subramaniam was born July 23, 1947 in Madras, India. His career as a childhood prodigy brought him into contact with the greatest musicians and he soon imposed himself as a master of the violin. At a very young age, he was honored with the title Violin Chakravarthy (emperor of the violin). Very few musicians can boast of such diverse repertoire and collaborations, or even such mind-boggling techniques. Till date, Dr. Subramaniam has produced, performed, collaborated, conducted and released over 150 recordings.

Dr. L. Subramaniam is the only musician who has performed/recorded Karnatic Classical Music, Western Classical Music, both orchestral and non-orchestral, and also composed for and conducted major orchestras, collaborated with a wide range of some of the greatest musicians, from different genres of music including jazz, occidental, jugalbandis with North Indian musicians, world music and global fusion. He has established himself as a force that is strongly Indian, but universal in nature and approach.

His insatiable musical curiosity made short shrift of all kinds of technique, of all types of form (he has composed for several western classical orchestras and ballets) and of all new experiences (he was a musical advisor to Peter Brook about the sound concepts for his Mahabharata). He has composed music for a select few films, including Salaam Bombay! and Mississippi Masala and was the featured soloist for Bernardo Bertolucci’s Little Buddha and Cotton Mary of Merchant Ivory Productions). This total receptivity towards the world, this polymorphous talent, this technical mastery all however find their truest experience in the service of Karnatic music, the tradition he has inherited from his father and guru, Professor V. Lakshminarayana. Dr. L. Subramaniam’s parents Prof V. Lakshminaryana and V. Seethalakshmi were the driving force behind their son and the reason he chose a life in music.

Passionate about music, Subramaniam was also dedicated to Science. He studied medicine, finishing his M.B.B.S at Madras Medical College and registered as a general practitioner. Subsequently he did his Master’s Degree in Western Classical Music in California and he finally decided to dedicate his life to music. From then on, his artistic activity was to spread in many directions.

Attracted by his unusual musical phrasing, several western musicians wanted to play with him. He willingly lent himself to these exchanges, which represented for him a no-man’s land, which allowed him to explore the field of improvisation. In this atmosphere of live exchanges, the musical differences and similarities became obvious to him and from then on they organized themselves brilliantly. Since 1973, Subramaniam has made historic collaborations and recordings with people like Yehudi Menuhin, Stephane Grappelli, Jean-Pierre Rampal, Steven Seagal, Ruggiero Ricci, Arve Tellefsen, Herbie Hancock, Joe Sample, Stanley Clarke, George Duke, Al Jarreau, Jean Luc Ponty, Earl Klugh, Larry Corryel, Corky Seagal , Tony Williams, Billy Cobham, John Surman, Maynard Ferguson and Ravi Coltrane.

Today, he is the founder/director of the Lakshminarayana Global Music Festival, the biggest global music festival in India, in which this spirit of encounter, which he has always enjoyed, is strongly expressed. The Festival has brought some of the greatest artists from around the globe together on one stage. It is held annually, primarily in India, but has also been held in different parts of the world.

Not only is he considered the most outstanding Indian Classical violinist, but also an exceptional composer who has established himself as the foremost Indian composer in the realm of orchestral composition. In 1983, he crossed other frontiers, that of western classical tradition. The Double Concerto for violin and flute combines western scales and micro intervals. Spring Rhapsody is a homage to Bach and Baroque music. Over the years he has written and created works for the worlds greatest orchestras: The New York Philharmonic Orchestra and Zubin Mehta (Fantasy on Vedic Chants), the Swiss Romande Orchestra (Turbulence); The Kirov Ballet (Shanti Priya) The Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra (The Concerto for Two Violins); The Berlin Opera (Global Symphony), the live concert of which was broadcast simultaneously over 28 nations for millions of people. His latest orchestral composition is entitled Astral Symphony for full symphony orchestra and soloists from different musical traditions, once again emphasizing the concept of Global Fusion.

His compositions have also been used in various stage presentations by leading ballet companies, including the Cleveland San Jose Ballet Company and the Alvin Ailey Company.

To increase understanding of the concepts of South Indian Classical Music, he released a four-CD set, called Anthology of South Indian Classical Music and written an authoritative book Euphony, which was co-authored with his late wife Vijayashree Subramaniam.

He has received several awards and honors, including the coveted Padma Bhushan and Sangeet Natak Akademi Award for The Most Creative Artist from the President of India. He has been awarded the Nada Chakravarti (Emperor of Sound) from H.H Sri Ganapati Sachchidananda Swami-ji at Trinidad (West Indies). In recognition of his contribution to the World of Music, he has been conferred with Honorary Doctorate (D.Lit) by both Bangalore University and University of Madras.

To commemorate 100 years of the Nobel Peace Prize, an album has been released bringing together the best from music and excerpts from speeches of Nobel laureates. For this project featuring artists from all around the world, Dr. Subramaniam and Kavita Krishnamurti Subramaniam were chosen to represent the Asian continent. They also performed at the re-opening of Bibliotheca Alexandria in Egypt which was attended by President and Mrs. Mubarak of Egypt, President and Mrs. Chirac of France, Queen Noor of Jordan, the Queen of Spain and Queen Sophie of Belgium among other Heads of States, Dignitaries and Nobel Laureates

His album titled Global Fusion was a critically acclaimed milestone and features artists from five continents including one of the most popular and successful singers in the film industry, Kavita Krishnamurti (whom Dr. L Subramaniam married in November 1999), and his talented and versatile daughter Seetaa Subramaniam.

In 2000 Dr. L. Subramaniam was in China for a concert tour, which coincided with the official visit of the President of India to commemorate fifty years of Indo-Chinese relations. Indian President K.R. Narayanan and Chinese President Jiang Zemen attended this historical performance with the Beijing Symphony Orchestra in Beijing. He gave a special performance for Prince Charles during the latter’s visit to India in 2004 along with Kavita and Seetaa.

Dr. Subramaniam composed and performed the special Olympic Torch Theme Song, celebrating the arrival of the Olympic Torch to India for the first time. Dr. Subramaniam, Kavita Krishnamurti and Seetaa Subramaniam released an album titled Athens, featuring the Olympic Torch Theme Song with lyrics by Gulzar.

In 2004 he completed a world tour of the Lakshminarayana Global Music Festival including concerts in the USA (Lincoln Center, New York) and the Asia Pacific Region (Perth, Australia, Esplanade in Singapore, Sri Dewan Penang Hall, Penang, and Putra Jaya World Trade Centre in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia).

The album Conversations and his orchestral composition Fantasy on Vedic Chants have become milestones and serves as a reference and guide for any composer exploring the concept of fusion.

I find nothing more inspiring than the music making of my very great colleague Subramaniam. Each time I listen to him, I am carried away in wonderment,” said Yehudi Menuhin.


Enchanting Melodies on the Violin, with Palghat Mani Iyer (1977)
Garland, with Svend Asmussen (1978) (Storyville, 1978)
Fantasy without Limits (Trend Records) (1979)
Subramaniam (1980)
Rainbow (1980)
Indian Classical Music (1980)
Le violon de l’Inde du Sud (Ocora, 1980)
Ragam, Tanam, Pallavi / The Virtuoso Violin of South India: Subramaniam (Lyrichord, 1981)
Blossom, with Herbie Hancock and Larry Coryell (Crusaders, 1981)
South Indian Strings (Lyrichord, 1981)
Spanish Wave (Milestone, 1983)
Indian Express (Milestone, 1984)
The Irresistible Dr L. Subramanium (Oriental, 1985)
Distant Visions (Audiorec, 1985)
Magic Fingers (1986)
Mani & Co. (Milestone, 1986)
East Meets West (1987)
An Anthology of South Indian Classical Music (Ocora, 1990)
Indian Classical Masters: Raga Hemavati (Nimbus Records, 1990)
Kalyani (Water Lily Acoustics, 1990)
Expressions of Impressions (Sonic Atmospheres, 1991)
Indian Classcial Masters: Three Ragas for Solo Violin (Nimbus Records, 1991)
Sarasvati (Water Lily Acoustics, 1991)
Musical Heritage of South India (1992)
Conversations (Milestone, 1992)
Beyond (New Earth Records, 1993)
Samarpanam (1993)
Masters of Raga (Wergo, 1995)
Pacific Rendezvous (Manu Music Productions, 1995)
Electric Modes Volumes 1 & 2 (Water Lily Acoustics, 1995)
Matchless (1999)
Global Fusion (Warner, 1999)
Free your Mind, with Larry Coryell (Iris Musique, 2002)
Asmita (Viji, 2004)
Maestro’s Choice (Music Today, 2004)
My Golden Years (Music Today, 2004)
Best of L. Subramaniam (Niranjani Music, 2004)
The Violin Legends, with Yehudi Menuhin and Stéphane Grappelli (2004)
Violin Maestros (2007)
Innovations (EMI, 2012)

Author: Angel Romero

Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music music for many years. He founded the websites and Angel produced several TV specials for Metropolis (TVE) and co-produced “Musica NA”, a music show for Televisión Española (TVE) in Spain that featured an eclectic mix of world music, fusion, electronica, new age and contemporary classical music. Angel also produced and remastered world music albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World.


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