All posts by Dr Koduvayur M Harikrishnan

Surgeon by profession, carnatic music fan by choice.

Scintillating Concert by an Unsung Musician Vidushi Geetha Sundaresan

Geetha Sundaresan

Carnatic Music has a large number of heroes and heroines. But the list of its unsung stars is even larger. This list is crowded with great musicologists and teachers who are responsible for the success of many performing stars. Such people preserve the greatness of our rich heritage alive by their selfless service. They happily pass on their expertise to others, many of whom go on to become performers of repute. More importantly, many such students go on to emulate their teachers, training more students; thus exponentially increasing the spread and reach of Carnatic Music. Geetha Sundaresan is one such teacher of teachers in the field of Carnatic Music.

Geetha was felicitated by a grateful gathering of her students of all ages, parents of many of these students, and admirers, in a special concert organized to honor her on 22 September 2018. She was accompanied by Sudha Ramasubramanian on the violin, who had been flown in from Chennai for the occasion, and local percussionists Sri Rama Mohan and Sri Nandagopal on mridangam and kanjira respectively.

Geetha started her concert with Saveri Varnam (Sarasuda by Kothavasal Venkatarama Iyer) which immediately set the tone for the evening’s program. This was followed by the Purandara Dasa kriti Saranu janakana kanaka rupane In Bilahari after a neat alapana. I have heard this sung by MLV in Latangi, but the Bilahari version sounded equally satisfying, including the chittaswarams in anupallavi and charanam. Later, I found out that the kriti has also been sung in Saurashtram. Wonder what raga the great saint sang it in originally?

Next was a brilliant Suddha Dhanyasi alapana, followed by Dikshitar’s Subramanyena rakshitoham. Geetha’s kalpana swarams were exquisite, yet not excessive. Young Sudha’s responses were equally impressive. At this point, the teacher in Geetha surfaced. She announced the details of the kritis she had sung so far, and prepared the audience for the Tyagaraja composition in the rare raga Manoranjani (Atu karaadani). The raga is a janya of the 5th Melakarta Manavati, although in the Dikshitar School of classification, it is itself designated as the 5th Melakarta.

Geetha Sundaresan

By now, the audience, already very aware of the singer’s status in the city, were totally hooked. Here was someone who could make the transition from an oft heard composition to a rarely heard one with consummate ease. The stage had been set by Geetha for a scintillating evening of music.

An elaborate alapana in panthuvarali was followed by Sambo Mahadeva of Tyagaraja. Geetha enlightened the audience with details of this kriti: it is one of the Kovur Pancharatna compositions, which sheds light on Tyagaraja’s devotion to Lord Siva. Her interaction with the audience continued with the next piece, Kannan maligaikke marubadi vandeno in Atana where Kuchela, on his way back from visiting his friend Krishna, unaware of the Lord’s graciousness, finds his house replaced by a palatial building, and wonders if he has wandered back to Krishna’s palace again. She informed the audience about Papanasam Sivan composing this song for the movie “Bhakta Kuchela” in 1961. Geetha then launched into her main piece of the evening – Syama Sastri’s “Ni sari evaramma” in Bhairavi, giving it the detailed attention that such a heavy composition deserves. A brilliant thani avarthanam by Sri Rama Mohan and young Nandagopal followed. If the mridangam sounded sweet to the ears, the Kanjeera was no less. Many in the audience declared they had never expected a limited-scope instrument like the Kanjeera to sound so melodious. The local percussion duo once again did all Muscat music lovers proud with their synchronization and laya precision.

Geetha Sundaresan

Eschewing an RTP, Geetha rounded off her concert with Kuntalavarali (Bhogeendra Sayeenam, Swati Thirunal), a lilting Bageshwari piece (Madhura Madhura Meenakshi by Swami Dayanada Saraswathi – Geetha mentioned about the honour she had of singing this song in the presence of the great Swamiji) and a Behag (muruganin maru peyar azhagu by Swami Surajananda), and a Kilippandu composed by her grandfather A K Mahadeva Iyer in praise of Tyagaraja. It was befitting that she invited all her students in the audience to join her as a chorus.

Geetha’s concert was an enriching experience for students and connoisseurs alike. Though Muscat will be the loser in Geetha’s repatriation to India, it was clear to all present that we rasikas here could not allow our selfishness to interfere with her class – she truly belongs in Chennai, where she will be able to rub shoulders with other artistes of her caliber.

Author: Dr (Col) Koduvayur M Harikrishnan with inputs from Mr. Ravishankar Rajamani.

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Bharathi Yaar – Musical Bio Play on the life of Mahakavi Bharathiyar by SB Creations

Mahakavi Bharathiyar

Tamil literature before Bharathi, and then there is Tamil literature after Bharathi,”  proclaims Appaduari, Subramania Bharathi’s  doting brother in law in one moving scene in the play. Never was a truer word spoken.

Mahakavi Bharathiyar, as he came to be known in his later life (alas, a rather short one, for he died when he was just 39), Bharathiyar is undoubtedly the Tamil equivalent of Shakespeare, a true watershed in Tamil literature.

His prolific writings spanned the entire gamut of literary forms. He introduced the Prose-Poetry form of expression, which to this day has not been bettered by any other writer. His passion for various social causes – women’s emancipation, equality of all religions, classes and castes, oneness of India’s peoples, and especially his love for freedom for the motherland, has inspired generations of Indians, across all sections of society, and all corners of the country.

Early in his career, he decided to wear the turban as a mark of respect for Sikhs whose indomitable spirit he greatly admired. His remarkably astute similes, his spontaneous lyrics, and his tenderness of approach to sensitive issues are legendary.

Few writers in any language can come close to his compositions extolling the love of a father for his daughter (Chinnachiru kiliye kannamma). Likewise, his poem about a naughty Lord Krishna epitomizes the love of a family for its mischievous, yet lovable son.

His song “ paayum oli nee enakku” is incomparable as a tribute to the “made for each other” philosophy. And all this in impeccable metre, each time and every time, without any contrived lyrics! This was not just genius – this was Muse in human avatar, although a cruelly short one. The mind shudders at the thought of what he would have achieved had he lived to be 70 or 80; and the heart goes heavy at this irreparable loss. But he himself would have spurned such thoughts – a man who lived life by his own rules till the end, defying the cruel English who battered him to death politically and economically, but whom he defeated with every word he wrote, every song he sang, every motivating speech he gave. In a most inspiring song (“Aaduvome, palli, paduvome”)  he declared many years before his death that India had gained independence, such was his conviction and belief.

 

Mahakavi Bharathiyar

 

As one among the millions of fans of Bharathiyar, I could go on and on about him and his contribution to literature and society, but I started this note as a review of the bio-play “Bharathi Yaar” (“Who Was Bharathiyaar”) by SB Creations in association with Thirukkural Pasarai of Muscat, staged yesterday (20/09/2018) to a packed hall at Al Falaj Hotel in Muscat, Oman. The organisers announced at the start that the play was 2 hours long, and that there would be no interval. They promised the audience wouldn’t notice the 2 hours passing.

When the show ended, the promise was more than delivered – no one left even afterwards for a long time, such was the wholesome experience everyone was treated to. The skillful combination of theater, film backdrops, music and dances was a clever move by the producers – it certainly held the audience’s attention better than a gripping storyline alone could have.  But then, the producers SBS Raman and Bharadwaj Raman, are son and grandson of the great Veena S Balachandar, a perfectionist in everything he did in his life, and those traits shine brightly through in the way the father-son duo have handled their production.

Scenes from Bharathiyar’s life have been strung together craftily, with background score made easy by the abundance of the protagonist’s own creations. The dialogues, written by Isaikkavi Ramanan, are outstanding, even when considering that Bharathiyar had made the task easy with his writings! What was even more impressive was Ramanan’s portrayal of Bharathiyar. His stature and bearing have an uncanny resemblance to the memory of Bharathiyar that generations of Tamilians carry (credit equally belongs to the make up artiste). He was ably supported by Dharma Raman playing Bharathiyar’s wife, and the famous classical musician Vijay Siva with his role as the self-appointed help of the family.

While the regular cast were totally at ease with their lines and histrionics, the many local artistes who chipped in with small but significant roles did remarkably well for themselves. Notable among these were Venkatramani, Savithri,  Sundaresan, and Govindarajan, Muscat’s own regulars in plays and musicals. Of the original cast, special mention needs to be made of the young girl who played Yadugiri, Bharathiyar’s adopted daughter. Her portrayal of Darupadi in the “Panchali Sabadam” scene, enhanced by some intuitive lighting, gave me goosebumps.

 

Mahakavi Bharathiyar

 

The abundant talent of the visitors from Chennai was clear in the concise introductions, the genuine thanksgiving by SBS Raman, and the unique tribute to His Majesty Sultan Qaboos by Ramanan. Oman’s proud expats make it a point to express their gratitude to the country’s  ruler at each and every function, something they do out of true love and admiration for perhaps the world’s  greatest and most benevolent ruler today; but Ramanan raised the bar very high with his honey sweet Tamil, and with his allusion to Bharathiyar’s love for Arabic language and Islam –  an aspect of the Mahakavi’s life I learnt yesterday.

I only wish the producers had enough finances to make better sets, better and less intrusive microphones for the artistes, and a stricter sense of discipline backstage. But for these very passable flaws, this was one unforgettable experience.  I emerged from the hall somewhat of an emotional wreck, and I bet I was not the only one to have felt so happily drained. This is a bio-play not to be missed by any patriotic Indian. And if you love Tamil, this is a feast nonparallel. Full marks to dear Sundar Kaleewaran for his single-minded devotion in bringing this epic play to Muscat.

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Reverse (Cultural) Brain Drain

Sandeep Narayan

It is a common complaint that fine Indian brains get drained off to America. Probably true. But Sandeep Narayan’s concert on 28th April at the Sri Krishna Temple in Muscat, Oman, was an outstanding, and very satisfying, example of the reverse.

Nadopasana Muscat, in its mere second year of existence, arranged this demonstration of how an American born, American educated young Indian has returned home to India to pursue his passion for music. And how passionate his music was!

The temple hall reverberated to some pristine Carnatic Classical Music for over three hours, drenching the sizeable audience with music that was all at once traditional and original.

Sandeep stuck to the traditional format, and yet he sang soulfully in a style that could (should) soon be referred to as Sandeep Bani. There was no blind imitation of his illustrious Gurus, but a clear demonstration of his having imbibed the essence of their musical wisdom.

 

Sandeep Narayan

 

Sandeep started his concert by paying tribute to his first Guru, the famous Sri Calcutta Krishnamoorthy, with a varnam in Kathanakuthoohalam. He mentioned that he started learning from the great teacher at the age of 11, adding that his main interest was to escape school! But once smitten, he rapidly discovered the treasure he was introduced to, and has now staked claim to its legacy. He later honed his skills under the redoubtable Sangeetha Kalanidhi Sanjay Subrahmanyam, a trail blazer himself. In his subtle, yet appropriate use of brigas, Sandeep constantly reminded the listener of Sanjay’s tutelage.

His choice of keertanas for the concert was impressive. Behind him on the stage was the banner of Nadopasana Muscat, featuring the giants of Carnatic music. He sang compositions of them all, showing a keen presence of mind. Not only that. He had gently inquired about the local rasikas, this being his maiden trip to Oman. And made it a point to sing in all four major South Indian languages, besides, of course, Sanskrit, the favorite of many vaggeyakaras.

 

Sandeep Narayan

 

Giving center stage to the greatest of them all, Tyagaraja, he chose his masterpiece Upacharamulanu in Bhairavi; a detailed Santhana Gopala Krishnam Upasmahe by Dikshitar, which would have gladdened the celestial Maharajapuram Santhanam, had we been fortunate to still have him terrestrial. In this piece, he took up for niraval the usual phrase “Sri Rukmini Satybhama sametham”, which refers to the two wives of Lord Krishna.

Listening to the pure combination of laya and melody it crossed my mind that never before had bigamy, even by a God, sound so melodious! He remembered to honor the memory of one of 20th century’s great composers, Ambujam Krishna, with her composition in Ranjani. Every piece that preceded or followed these, deserves to be praised. But I will simply provide the full list below for the reader to conjure up the magic we the lucky ones in the hall experienced.

 

H N Bhaskar

 

Any concert is only as successful as its teamwork. Sandeep was truly lucky. He had the brilliant H N Bhaskar on the violin, a complete disciple of the great king of melody, Sri MS Gopalakrishnan. Bhaskar’s delineation of ragas, and his rejoinders to Sandeep’s brigas and swarams, reminded this writer of the genius of MSG. I have no doubt we will continue to experience the MSG effect for as long as Bhaskar wields the violin and the bow. On the mridangam, the last minute entrant, local lad Nandagopal, sent clear signals that he ought to be the first choice for percussion accompaniment, not a substitute. The audience gave its affirmation with thunderous applause after his thani avarthanam.

 

Nandagopal

 

Oh, Sandeep endeared himself to the audience not just with his melodious voice and musical acumen. He communicated most effectively with the audience with well-chosen comments and anecdotes about the kritis – an increasingly common trait among today’s generation of musicians. May they flourish and prosper!

Varnam – Kathanakuthuhalam – Calcutta Krishnamurti
Mahaganapathe palayasumam – Natanarayani – Dikshitar
Polla puliyinum – Mayamalavagaula – Papanasam Sivan
Santhana gopala krishnam upasmahe – Kamas – Dikshitar; niraval at “Sri rukmini satyabhama sametham”.
Kaadiruvenu naanu Sri Rama – Ranjani – Ambujam Krishna
Upacharamulanu – Main piece Bhairavi – Tyagaraja
Thani by Nandagopal
Panimathi mukhe bale – Ahiri – Swati Tirunal
Parvati ninnu ne – Kalgada – Shyama Sastri
Durga RTP, (pallavi -Sri durge, sukhe, sangeetha rasike)
Gopala gokula – Vallabhi – Tulasidas
Thillana – Bindumalini – N Ramani
Karpagame – Madhyamavati – Papanasam Sivan

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The Changing face of Chennai Music Festival

Anuradha Krishnamurthy

 

The annual Music Festival conducted in December-January in Chennai is a unique phenomenon. It is the largest festival of its kind in the world, with close to 2000 performances of music, dance, drama, spiritual discourses, lecture-demonstrations, discussions and related events.

While the essence of the festival is entertainment through these forms of art, there is an impressive gastronomic delight built in – In the close to 60 odd sabhas or organizations that host the various activities, impromptu canteens spring up, catering mouth-watering dishes relished not only by the rasikas who attend the programmes, but also by the local residents who take full advantage of these temporary canteens. Indeed, many of the performing artistes also join the rasikas in enjoying the menu!

Started in 1927, the Madras Music Festival (the original name from days gone by when Chennai was Madras) has grown to its present gigantic form over the years, thanks to the generous patronage of the corporate world, and the discerning music fans (rasikas) who come from all over the world.

While most enthusiasts coming from abroad (USA, UK, the Middle East and Singapore for the main part) are Indians, there is a growing number of westerners with interest in Carnatic Music who attend these concerts.

In 2017, most sabhas are reported to have had between 50 and 100 people of non-Indian origin every day, especially for the music and dance events. The Season provides a platform for established artistes as well as budding ones to showcase their talent.

 

Bombay Sisters -C. Saroja and C. Lalitha

 

My wife and I attended this year’s season. While we regularly travel to Chennai during the Season from wherever we are, we would rarely get more than 3 or 4 days of quality music. We decided long back that this year would be different. And it was. We stayed put for 18 days in all, soaking in the grand art in all its glory. And we found that the Season has evolved over the years, in more ways than one. Here is how:

The first, and perhaps the most satisfying aspect was the quality of the performances. There has always been this lament of doomsday pessimists that Carnatic music is on the decline, that a few years down the line, it would be relegated to history books. Even the wackiest pessimist would have had a change of heart had they, like us, attended the festival this year.

A vast majority of performances were by talented youngsters in their 20s and thirties. And they performed like stalwarts! There was no sign of undue nervousness, no stage fear. Instead, all of them exuded supreme confidence in the way they went about displaying their understanding and even mastery of the complex art form that Carnatic music is.

The selection of kritis, the pace of delivery, an occasional remark about some significant aspect of a raga or composition – this was, for us, a pleasant change from bygone years when artistes came on stage, belted out their fare, and left. Today’s performers do not seem shy of communicating with the audience – and every time this happened, I saw the audience love it. Without exception.

 

Sandeep Narayanan

 

A few years ago, one of the magazines lamented the “death” of the Ragam Tanam Pallavi, the ultimate jewel of the Carnatic music platform. This year, the audience was treated to a veritable feast of RTPs! Indeed, a new term has emerged – the RTKRagam Tanam followed by a weighty composition (called Kriti) to underpin the beauty of the chosen raga.

 

Mannargudi Easwaran

 

The quality of accompanists: A missed or misplaced note (referred to as abhaswaram) played by the accompanist can stick out like a sore thumb, disturbing the flow of the main singer and audience satisfaction. It is a tribute to the teachers and trainers of today’s young accompanists that the cynic in me could not identify a single instance of abhaswaram  in the 40 odd concerts I heard this season. On the contrary, some of the violin accompanists were superlative, matching the main artiste note for note, unfazed by the stature of the senior they were accompanying.

 

S Varadharajan

 

Never shy of going back stage and talking to artistes, I had the pleasure of conveying my sentiments to many of these youngsters. Many of the new (to me, not the regular concert goer in Chennai) violinists I met were all students of Sangeetha Kalanidhi Smt Kanyakumari. I mention this because the Parur and Lalgudi schools are known to produce violinists who strictly adhere to sruti suddham or purity of notes. Here is another set of high level performers being trained by one of the top violinists of today – what can be more reassuring about the future of our heritage than this?

As for the percussionists, no amount of praise is enough. Every single mridangam, ghatam or kanjeera player seems to a master of mathematics, so sure is their grasp of laya.  Sure some of the less experienced ones need to mature, but they don’t lack talent, they merely need on-stage experience. Which, thankfully, is abundantly available.  Which could well be the reason for yet another significant change noticed this year – far few people walk out during the solo by the percussionists, and this in turn motivates the artistes to perform better.

Trichur V. Ramachandran

 

The ubiquitous internet and its ally, the sophistication of present day smart phones, have made a huge difference too, unlike in the preceding years. It is possible to find out details of the song being sung by looking it up instantly on the internet – knowing about the composer, the raga in which it is being sung, and especially the ability to follow the lyrics as the kriti unfolds on stage, has made a huge difference to the overall enjoyment of the concert. That’s technology aided entertainment in the truest sense!

 

Smt Kanyakumari & T. Rukmii

 

Time keeping:  An extremely satisfying aspect noticed this time around was the clockwork precision with which the major sabhas conduct their programmes. The Music Academy has always been very strict with schedules, but other sabhas are catching on quickly. My wife and I experienced only one instance of a programme not starting on time. I may be unaware of other lapses in this, but the general consensus is that most places the programmes start and end on time.

Umayalpuram K. Sivaraman

 

Themed events:  Finally, a whole new range of themed events are adding value to the festival.  Ranjani and Gayatri, arguably the top vocalists in the circuit, did an RTP in each of their concerts, paying tribute to various composers. They did this by choosing one popular kriti of each composer and doing an RTP in the raga of that composition, using the first line of the composition as the lyrics for the pallavi. I was amazed at their innovative sense, as were most others.

There were some restaurants that combined meals with music – by having artistes present in their premises. This gave the rasikas a chance to see their favorites close – up, and interact with them.  Most sabhas distributed daily leaflets – absolutely free of charge – carrying tid bits and anecdotes from around the city’s sabhas – al this by a bunch of enthusiasts giving of their time and effort voluntarily.

My wife and I came away more than satisfied after this season, convinced that the face of Madras Music Season is changing, and changing for the better. I am convinced that far from fading away, Carnatic music is poised to reach a whole new dimension in the capable hands of today’s generation of performers.

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Sri Tyagaraja – Musi-Drama: A Pongal Boananza for Muscat Music Lovers

T V Varadarajan’s Sri Tyagaraja Musi-Drama

 

Saint Tyagaraja strode the field of Carnatic music as a colossus. While there is no way of establishing how many kritis he actually composed (estimates vary from 6000 to 24000, but less than a 1000 are extant), there is no doubt about the extraordinary influence he had on the development of Carnatic music practice.

T V Varadarajan and his devoted team have put together important and interesting events from the saint composer’s life in the form of an eponymous musical play. It is creditable that a play lasting over two hours manages to keep the audience glued to their seats. This was demonstrated by TVV’s team, for the 109th and 110th times, at the Krishna Temple in Muscat on 11th and 12th of January 2018.

Tyagaraja (1767 – 1847) lived in South India in times when the Bhakti movement was in full swing. Kings and commoners alike believed in a Supreme Being and lived their lives in accordance with the tenets of Sanathana Dharma. For Tyagaraja, the Supreme Being was Lord Rama, in the form of a vigraha (statue) in his prayer hall. There was no room for anything else in Tyagaraja’s life.

Ascetic to the core, indifferent to the possibilities of encashing his talent with the local rulers, he lived as if in a trance, truly believing in his Rama, unshakable in his belief that He would provide deliverance from the mundane existence on earth. Naturally, this led to conflicts with his own kith and kin, who were more of a materialistic bent. All this and more from the saint composer’s simple yet event filled life were shown on stage with remarkable clarity by Varadarajan’s team. There was no hint of unnecessary dramatization, no meaningless exaggeration or populist twists.

 

T V Varadarajan’s Sri Tyagaraja Musi-Drama

 

The entire cast demonstrated their total commitment to the play – this was not a performance for earning kudos for them – this was duty fulfilled, time and again, commemorating the great soul whose story they felt honored to depict on stage. Varadarajan lives the part of Tyagaraja in every syllable, every move, every muscle and sinew. His portrayal of Tyagaraja’s anguish when he finds his beloved Rama taken away from him had many in the audience wiping away tears. That he continued in the bard’s garb during the presentations after the play, was ample evidence of his total devotion to the storyline. Indeed, he said in his thanksgiving speech that his team had decided not to dilute their commitment by doing other plays while engaged in this labor of love.

Every single character was portrayed by the artistes with utmost professionalism. The timing and lip sync of the various singers was so accurate, it was difficult to believe they were not actually singing one beautiful composition after another. Every actor on stage was alive and involved, adding value to emotions conveyed by some superlative dialogues. And the genius of Bombay Jayasree Ramnath shines right through the play in the lay out of the music and the choice of kritis.

Everything, from the selection of the songs to the extent of its portrayal was just apt. She along with other singers (OS Arun, Kunnankudi Balamuralikrishna, Vignesh Ishwar, and others), have done a remarkable job of providing the necessary background music.

There have been movies made – very well made indeed – on the saint composer’s life in the past. But to do it more than a hundred times on stage calls for a level of devotion that can only come from a team committed to the cause. This writer came away drained – and extremely contented – from the experience. The organizing team, comprising of Venkatesh, Savithri Raghu, and others deserve whole hearted thanks for their wonderful Pongal gift to the discerning Muscat audience.

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A concert for a lifetime

In the notification in these columns about Ranjani-Gayatri’s upcoming concert in Muscat, I had predicted it would be a grand affair. An easy way to score a point as a clairvoyant, since their concerts are always grand! More than 800 people had a sublime experience, not one of them choosing to go – even after the concert! The organizers had to practically hustle the sisters away from the hall for some much needed dinner!

I have made a another  prediction about Ranjani and Gayatri (R-G): that they will be the torch bearers for the restructuring of the Carnatic Music concert pattern – something their illustrious predecessor, Sri Ariyakkudi Ramanuja Iyengar, did many decades ago. At a time where incredibly  silly things are being tried in the name of innovation, R-G sisters are sticking to  a format that all at once respects the basic tenets of the grandest of India’s music traditions, yet gives them ample room for experimentation. It is their ability to exercise freedom with a sense of discipline and reverence to our divine musical heritage that gives me the courage to say that their pattern will be the one in vogue in the coming decades.

They stuck to their formula yesterday – a crisp Abhogi varnam (although I must confess I was hoping to hear some kalpana swarams a-la the great GNB, another master innovator within traditions), a crisp Kedaram (Swati Tirunal’s Paramananda Natana) then a Rangapura Vihara in Brindavana Saranga (a special treat for the Indian Ambassador, as the composition is in Sanskrit, and the raga is common to both Hindustani and Carnatic systems);  a detailed Todi  (Tyagaraja’s Raju vedala) was followed by a composition in Dwijavanti (payorasi bhale). This kriti is by Smt Kalyani Varadarajan, whose wonderful compositions are gaining popularity amongst the top performers because of their intellectual appeal.

Then came an elaborate alapana in Mohanam as a preface to the ever popular “kapaali” by Papanasam Sivan. This was followed by a scintillating thani avarthanam by Manoj Siva, who drew a massive applause for his efforts. By now, the audience was totally mesmerized.

 

Ranjani-Gayatri

 

In keeping with their charming ability to connect with the audience, they announced the details of the compositions they sang. After a melodious Nasikabhushani (Tyagaraja’s Maravairi ramani) they took up the main item of the concert: a Ragam-Tanam-Pallavi (RTP for short), a unique feature of Carnatic music. Ranjani and Gayatri, known for their sensitive handling of both heavy and off beat ragas, chose to treat the audience to an RTP in beautiful Hamsanandi. Every shade, every hue of this pleasant raga was brought out in consummate detail by both sisters – the transition from one to the other in mid phrase was so aesthetic, it drew repeated applause.

But this was nothing compared to the garland of ragas they weaved at the end – the ragamalika – composed of Nattai, Reethigaula, Hamir Kalyani and Sindhubhiaravi. Ranjani’s handling of Hamir kalyani once again underscored the in-depth knowledge of ragas derived from the north. The last, most deservingly referred to as the queen of ragas, was handled brilliantly by Gayatri – she was so engrossed, she could have gone on for an hour elaborating the raga. Sampath’s violin was sweet and soothing to the ears, and his repartee to each of the sisters’ volleys was remarkable. The audience’s joy was boundless at the end of the piece – no one seemed in any hurry to stop clapping! Then followed the “thukkadas”. The term may be translated to mean tidbits, but in their melodic intent, they were as weighty as the major kritis preceding them. There was a viruttam in karaharapriya, saveri and a delectable Maand, then Purandara dasa’s Narayana nine in Suddha dhanyasi, and a lilting bhajan in Khamaj (payoji meine ram rattan dhan payo). The finale was the much awaited abhang that the sisters are especially well known for – they chose Bhoota mothe in Chandrakauns, made extremely enjoyable by Gayatri’s explanation of the lyrics up front.

 

Gayatri

 

The true hallmark of a great artiste is their ability to deliver in the presence of adversity. A Tendulkar or a Roger Federer doesn’t get perturbed by the dryness of the pitch or the slippery court. They give of their best to the fans. In what could be mildly put as audio adversity, Ranjani and Gayatri delivered ace after ace, cover drive after cover drive, each one more pleasing to the senses than the other. Within minutes of the concert being over, accolades galore were clogging the whatsapp messages of all the organizers. This was Nadopasana’s 4th concert of the year, but quite easily the concert of a lifetime.

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The Melody Queens Ranjani & Gayatri in Muscat

Ranjani & Gayatri

The top-ranking Indian Classical music duo of Smt. Ranjani and Smt. Gayatri are to perform for the music loving audience of Muscat on Saturday 28th October. They are coming from Chennai, the cultural capital of India, for their maiden performance in Oman.

 

Ranjani & Gayatri

 

Ranjani and Gayatri are sisters who have been giving classical music concerts from a very young age. They established themselves as a leading violin duo, but have now changed to giving vocal concerts. They are among the most sought-after singers in India, because of their wide repertoire – (they sing compositions in many major Indian languages, including all the South Indian languages, Hindi, Marathi and Bengali) and their being outstanding consummate musicians. They are especially well known for their rendition of Marathi Abhangs, some of which they have tuned to music themselves.

Their concert is being organized by a group of music enthusiasts who call themselves Nadopasana. The organizers said they were extremely pleased to be able bring the numero uno team of vocalists for the listening pleasure of music lovers in Muscat. Although they have toured all around the world extensively, this is their first ever visit to Muscat, which regularly sees Classical Music stalwarts perform in the city every year. Two talented youngsters, Trivandrum Sampath (violin) and Manoj Siva (mridangam) will accompany the sisters.

 

 

Trivandrum Sampath

 

Manoj Siva

 

We are overwhelmed by the response from music lovers” said one of the organizer. “Their concert is bound to inspire the large number of young music students in the city”, he added. Such good events are made feasible through the magnanimous grace and patronage of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said.

Venue:

Sur Ballroom,
Muscat Holiday Hotel,
Al Khuwair – Muscat.
Time: 05:30 PM
Date: 28th Oct. 2017

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Youthful Custodians of Culture

As announced in these columns recently, Nadopasana, a Muscat (Oman) based voluntary organization devoted to Indian classical music, staged a double concert on Saturday, the 25th March 2017. It featured two young and promising stars of the Carnatic genre. The morning session was a vocal concert by Nandini Neelakantan, while the evening session featured the vocal recital of Vignesh Ishwar.

M S Ananthakrishnan accompanied both artistes on the violin. All three artistes flew in from India, while the percussion accompaniment was provided by local artistes. The ICCR (Indian Council for Cultural Relations) very generously sponsored the travel of the visiting artistes. The whole thing was made possible by the encouragement and enthusiasm of HE Mr. Indra Mani Pandey, the Ambassador of India to Oman.

Both Nandini and Vignesh are in their twenties. At the end of their concerts, I felt in the depths of my heart that Carnatic Music as a cultural treasure and tradition was safe for the next many centuries, if these two youngsters were to be seen as yardsticks. This was not a parade of memorized kritis and swaraprastharams, not a mere show of virtuosity and voice range, but a true reflection of commitment to an art form born out of choice, even of passion for the music. Both of them revealed an understanding of the nuances of music which belied their age.

GN Balasubramaniam, who is considered by most authorities as a watershed phenomenon in the world of Carnatic music, was 18 when he gave his first concert on stage. These youngsters are not much older, and yet were able to hold the audience at the Krishna Temple, Muscat, spellbound throughout their concert – be it heavy kritis or thukkadas. A scintillating Kalyani by Nandini, and a superlative Todi by Vignesh spoke the same message – a complete understanding of the raga Lakshana, and a manodharma in doing niraval and swarams that was nothing short of awesome.

Even in the selection of items for the evening, as well, both showed a maturity that was way beyond what many of us “senior” rasikas expected from such youngsters (see below for details). The pieces chosen were not populist keertanas aimed at pleasing the masses. Yet, impress they did: Nandini’s Theerada Vilayattu Pillai, the ultimate expression of a father’s love for his daughter written by Bharathiyar, the Tamil Maha Kavi, left many in the audience with a lump in their throats, such was her bhava.

The Bageshri piece Sagara sayana vibho would have had its composer, the legendary MD Ramanathan, clucking away contentedly from his divine abode for sure. Between her and Ananthakrishnan, they showed their mastery of the Sruti Bedham technique, by transcending briefly from Kalyani to Suddha Dahnayasi during the alapana – not an easy feat by any standards. Nandagopal, elder brother of Nandini and her first source of inspiration and introduction to music, was in his usual brilliant elements, something that the Muscat audience have come to expect of him. The applause after his thani laid to rest any questions about who was the darling of the local crowd!

 

Nandini Neelakantan

 

Vignesh, for his part, made full use of his voice, showing flashes of brigas at breakneck speed, without in any way compromising melodic content. He also demonstrated his depth of understanding of the maestros. His concert was laced liberally with anecdotes about the composers and the great masters who had popularized the kritis he sang. He demonstrated how Madurai Mani Iyer or GNB would have handled the swaras for the ever-so-pleasing Kapi Narayani (sarasa sama dana) – after himself giving an excellent account of kalpana swaras. It prompted this reviewer to sit and listen to the kriti sung by various artistes after returning home, and realize how little I had observed of them in all these years! His humility in underscoring the contributions of the great stalwarts in Carnatic music reflected how and where he viewed himself in the broad sense of the Carnatic tradition – a sterling quality which he would do very well to nurture and adhere to. Vignesh’s elaborate Todi (Koluvamaragade by Sri Thyagaraja) was followed by a short tani by Srinivasan. Srinivasan’s style a mellow, soft and suave one rendered an able support through the concert.

 

Vignesh Ishwar

 

Both Nandini and Vignesh exhibited another quality which is often overlooked as a success factor – the art of team work. Both of them ensured their accompanists were always in the limelight, by repeatedly showing appreciation for their efforts.

Not that Ananthakrishnan would have gone unnoticed otherwise. With his astute anticipation of the vocalist’s moves, and the ability to explore the higher octaves with the single finger technique, he showed how he has established himself as the scion of the Parur family of violinists. That he seamlessly shifted pitch from accompanying a female to a male voice within the space of a few hours, spoke volumes about his oneness with his instrument. Of especial note were his repartees to Nandini’s Jayanthasri (Marukelara) and Vignesh’s Poorvikalyani (Deva deva jagadeeswara).

Summing up the two concerts of the day, everyone agreed that this trend of multiple concerts could well see Muscat transforming itself into a Cleveland or a second Chennai – something that would be very welcome to the growing Carnatic music fan following in Oman! Nadopasana, an abecedarian just the other day, is indeed making great strides in its very first year.

Morning Concert: MJ Nandini (Vocal) – MS Ananthakrishnan (Violin) – N Nandagopal (Mridangam)

Dinamani Vamsa – Harikamboji – Adi – Tyagaraja
Ninnu Joochi – Saurashtram – Patnam Subramania Iyer
Mamayurameedail Erivaa – Bilahari – Mazhavai Chidambara Bharati
Mayamma – Ahiri – Adi – Syama Sastri
Viruttam followed by Venuganalolnii – Kedaragaula – Rupakam – Tyagaraja
Marukelara – Jayathasri – Adi – Tyagaraja
Neetu charana pankaja – Kalyani – Adi – Swati Tirunal
Thani avarthanam
Theerada vilayattu pillai – ragamaika – Adi – Bharathiyar
Sagara sayana vibho – Bageshri – Adi – MD Ramanatahan
Aliveni – Chenchurutti – Adi – Swati Tirunal
Thillana – Sindhubhairavi- Lalgudi Jayaraman

Evening Concert: Vignesh Ishwar (Vocal) – MS Anathakrrishnan (Violin) – Delhi Srinivasan (Mridangam)

Ragasudha rasa – Andolika – Deshaadi – Tyagaraja
Sri Mathrubhutham – Kannada – Misra Ekam – Dikshitar
PUrvi KalyAni – Deva Deva Jagadeeswara – Adi – Swati Tirunal
Sarasa sAma Dana – Kapii Narayani – Adi – Tyagaraja
Koluva mara – Todi – Adi – Tyagaraja
Thani Avarthanam
SApasya kausalyA – Jonpuri
Viruttam (Sayankale Vanante) ragamalika (Mohanam, Kapi, Surati)
Rase Haari miha – AshtapaTi – Maand – Adi – Jayadeva
Thiruppugazh – HamsAnandi
Mangalam

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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.

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