Roopa Mahadevan is a Carnatic vocalist. Born and raised in San Josem Californiam Roopa underwent her formative training under Smt. Asha Ramesh disciple of the late Sangeetha Kalanidhi D.K. Jayaraman and Sri Nanganallur Ramanathan.
In 2007 Roopa was awarded the highly-regarded Fulbright Scholarship by the U.S. State Department to receive advanced training in Chennai India under Smt. Suguna Varadachari, a senior vidushi and respected teacher of the Musiri Subramania Iyer tradition.
Roopa has been a regular performer in the major sabhas during Chennai December season for the past years and has received praise from the Carnatic music fraternity and notable press including The Hindu Indian Express Times of India The Week and more.
She has performed full-length concerts in several venues in India and North America including the Cleveland Thyagaraja Aradhana where she has been awarded the first prize for raga alapana and krithi rendition in their annual competition in years past.
In 2010 Roopa was honored with the title “Kala Ratna” by the Cleveland Thyagaraja Aradhana for her commitment to the pursuit of Carnatic music as a young American. Roopa is also an accomplished Bharathanatyam dancer who has done her arangetram and performed in India and Europe under the training of Smt. Indumathy Ganesh disciple of Padmashri Smt. Chitra Visweswaran.
Roopa is additionally adept at singing for Bharathanatyam productions; she has sung for such dance artists as Bragha Bessel Mythili Prakash Abhinaya Dance Company and Shakti Dance Company among others.
Roopa also enjoys performing R&B/soul music and has lent her voice to several contemporary art projects such as an Indian folk ensemble curated by Chennai’s Prakriti Foundation the Guadalajara International Book Fair and two urban/R&B music albums “Lovespeak” and “Bring Back the Nyte.”
She provided lead female vocals for the track “Sukle Krsna” on the album Calling All Dawns that won a Grammy for “Best Classical Crossover Album.”
Roopa received her Bachelor’s and Master’s degree from Stanford University and currently works in the public health policy field while simultaneously pursuing her artistic career.
Rajna Swaminathan, disciple of mrudangam maestro Sri Umayalpuram K. Sivaraman accompanies Carnatic musicians. She started learning Mrudangam from her father Dr. P. K. Swaminathan at the age of 5 and came under the direct tutelage of Sri Umayalpuram K. Sivaraman at the age of 8. She is 14 years old and is studying in Benjamin Banneker Middle School in Maryland. Rajna is only one of a handful of female mrudangam artists and one of a very few female percussionists in the world.
She has performed at many local Thyagaraja utsavams and other programs. Along with her father Dr. P. K. Swaminathan she has accompanied high caliber artists such as Dr. N. Ramani Sikkil Mala Chandrasekhar Rudrapatnam Brothers Charumathi Ramachandran etc. and won their praise.
During Fall 2004 Rajna toured the USA along with her illustrious Guru and performed for one piece on Mrudangam with Sri Sivaraman accompanying on Kanjira and encouraging her. Sri Sivaraman presented her to the Maryland audience for a full two hour concert debut at the auspices of the Chinmaya Mission Maryland on October 9th 24 with Sri Somayajulu on Jalatharangam Sri Nagai Sriram on Violin and Sri E. M. Subramaniam on Ghatam.
Rajna also performs mrudangam for dance programs, most notably the grand Kuchipudi dance ballet Bharata Sambhavam held at Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater.
In addition to mrudangam, Rajna plays piano and has learned Bharathanatyam for some years.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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)
Fresh from the memory of momentous inaugural concert by Prince Rama Varma, music fans in Muscat are being treated to a double delight by Nadopasana. A totally voluntary organization dreamed up by a bunch of die-hard rasikas of classical Carnatic music, Nadopasana is in its very first year of service to the music lovers of Oman. Encouraged by the support provided by its well-wishers, the organizing team has arranged for two concerts by promising young musicians who are currently making waves in the Indian music scene.
The concerts, planned for the 25th of March 2017 at the Krishna Temple, Darsait, Muscat, will feature Mrs Nandini Neelakantan in the morning session and Mr Vignesh Ishwar in the evening.
Mrs Neelakantan (nee NJ Nandini of Trivandrum), stormed the Carnatic music scene a few years back by winning many of the reality competition shows on Indian television channels. Blessed with a lovely voice and a matching countenance, she has imbibed everything from her Gurus and created an enchanting style of her own. Yet to be 25, she is already an “A” grade artiste with All India Radio, and has performed over 700 concerts in India and abroad. If her track record is any indication, the discerning audience in Muscat is in for a real treat on Saturday, the 25th March. Her concert starts at 10.00 am.
She will be accompanied by Sri M S Ananthakrrishnan, the youngest torch bearer of the great Parur style of violin playing, made internationally famous by his grandfather Sri M.S. Anantharaman and the legendary Sri M. S. Gopalakrishnan.
The Parur style emphasizes strict adherence to sruti and focuses on the gayaki style of playing the violin. In recent years, young Ananthakrrishnan has repeatedly won laurels for upholding the trend set by his illustrious predecessors.
The percussion accompaniment for Nandini will be by her brother Sri Nandagopal, already a well-known and much sought after mridangist, vocalist and teacher in Muscat. As a loving elder sibling, Nandagopal has been nurturing Nandini’s career and his presence and support on the mridangam is bound to bring the very best out of Nandini.
The evening concert, scheduled to begin at 6:00 pm, will feature another rising star in the Carnatic scene, Sri Vignesh Ishwar. Born with the advantage of belonging to a musically evolved family, Vignesh has grasped the essence of Carnatic music, which is revealed in impressive stage presence, and confident rendition of alapanas, kritis and kalpana swarams.
Making good use of his technical background (he holds a masters in sound and music technology), Vignesh has been involved in many innovative schemes to improve and preserve the great heritage of classical Indian music. He has a bagful of honors and awards to his credit, and there is no doubt he will leave his mark on the Muscat audience.
Young Ananthakrishnan will be Vignesh’s violin accompanist. It is creditable that Ananthakrishnan has agreed to play the violin for a lead female and male artiste on the same day, as this can be technically demanding.
The mridangist for the evening will be Delhi R Srinivasan, who has an enviable track record as an accompanist to almost all the great vocalists and instrumentalists who have visited Delhi in the last thirty odd years. He has been chosen to accompany many of these artistes abroad on their concert tours, such is his level of understanding the role of a percussionist. Another Muscat boy, Srinivasan is bound to delight the many locals who already know his prowess.
Saturday the 25th March promises to be an exciting day, alright!
EarthSync will present the Carnatic tradition of veena virtuoso Dr. Jayanthi Kumaresh live at the Celtic Connections Festival in Glasgow, Scotland. Celtic Connections is a large, influential music festival that celebrates Scottish music as well as Celtic and world music and other forms of roots music.
Jayanthi Kumaresh is an internationally renowned Carnatic veena maestro hailing from a distinguished family of musicians who have been immersed in the Carnatic tradition for seven generations. She has been playing the instrument since she was 5 years old, and will showcase a selection of evening ragas. Her performances at Celtic Connections 2017 will take place on Friday, January 27th at 7:30pm, and Saturday, January 28th at 8:00 pm.
“I’m looking forward to presenting the national instrument of India – the Saraswati Veena – to an international audience in Glasgow, introducing many of them to the textures of this instrument that has a 15000 year old tradition originating from the Vedic period” says Kumaresh, “I would like to give credit to EarthSync for taking this instrument far and wide where people haven’t heard of it – it’s a great service to the cause of Indian Classical music to facilitate this exposure”.
South Indian classical violin master Ganesh Rajagopalan (of Ganesh-Kumaresh duo fame) is set to perform on October 7th at Roulette in New York City. This concert is part of the Carnatic Masters series, featuring leading musicians in South Indian music, produced by Robert Browning Associates.
Ganesh Rajagopalan has toured the globe, appearing with a wide range of classical, jazz and world music artists, including Zakir Hussain. He has composed numerous ragas, varnams and thillanas, as well as music for dance ballets, theatre, and films.
In this program, Ganesh Rajagopalan will explore the divine and healing through music. He will perform on violin and sing, and also lead an interactive meditation of chanting with the audience. He will be accompanied by Akshay Ganesh on violin, Abhinav Seetharaman on mridangam (double-headed barrel drum), and Sriram Ramesh on kanjira (frame drum).
The husband-wife duo of violin maestro R. Kumaresh and veena virtuoso (lute) player Jayanthi Kumaresh are set to perform on October 1st at the Thalia at Symphony Space in New York City. This concert is part of the Carnatic Masters series, featuring leading figures in South Indian music, presented by Robert Browning Associates.
R. Kumaresh and Jayanthi Kumaresh are two of the leading instrumentalists in their respective fields. The duo will perform solos and duets accompanied by R. Sankaranarayanan on mridangam (double-headed barrel drum) and S. Krishnaswamy on ghatam (clay pot drum).
R. Kumaresh has 40 years of concert experience and is internationally renowned both as a soloist and for his duets with his brother, Ganesh Rajagopalan.
Jayanthi Kumaresh traces her musical heritage back six generations. She has captivated audiences around the world for 30 years and collaborated with many of India’s major artists.
Leonard Nimoy Thalia at Peter Norton Symphony Space
2537 Broadway at 95th Street, New York City
Tickets: $28; seniors, students $24; day of show $32
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