Song of Surrender

Saturday, 26 November 2011

No New Star on the Horizon

By PNV Ram

This was written on the eve of the 2006 Season

“Carnatic music is alive and well”, seems to be the verdict of most enthusiasts and critics, who shower their praises on the ‘genius’ and ‘versatility’ of our top performers, as yet another season draws to a close. The dance scenario too drew favourable comments all round. There are a few exceptions to this popular view, with some senior citizens, especially among critics, holding the view that the present day practitioners of both these arts are not a patch on the stalwarts of the past. In balance, the general run of reviews from both Sruti staffers and others, indicates that the recent season offered good performances overall, but none of them seems to haves potted any major new talent.

Among the artists themselves, opinions vary as to the state of Carnatic music today. Veteran flautist N. Ramani struck a despondent note when he said, ‘Those were the days when the rasika-s were really serious about attending season concerts and it was not just a fad. The concert duration was longer. People stayed. On the contrary today durations have become shorter and the rasika-s too do a lot of sabha hopping in the same evening. I miss the serious rasika.’

Young vocalist P. Unnikrishnan had a different view to offer. He told The Hindu’s correspondent: “The audience is more demanding now. You can’t ‘manage’ without competence. They won’t accept it. I think this kind of audience inspires us through the year to do well, give of our best. Season concerts become benchmarks for us to live up to, until the next season comes round, when hopefully, we will set higher goals.”

In the same feature, ‘My festival’ in The Hindu, the sisters Ranjani and Gayatri lamented the lack of opportunities to listen to senior vidwans brought about by the ever-increasing workload they and other performers shoulder during the season. “Today, not only the top artists but also youngsters give 8 to 10 performances,” they complained, “are they equipped to do justice to their art? Besides, how can they listen to others if they are constantly performing? And if they don’t make use of the season to listen to seniors, how are they going to improve their own music?”

Veterans R. Vedavalli, R.K. Srikantan and Nedunuri Krishnamurthy gave standout performances, steeped in tradition but lacking in none of the elements of a polished, accomplished, contemporary kutcheri. According to one of our correspondents, they proved that “vidwat gained with age and experience can deliver great music with the right mix of composure and technical virtuosity”.

The stars of today did not disappoint, with the likes of T.M. Krishna, Sanjay Subrahmanyan, Vijay Siva, Bombay Jayashri, and Ranjani-Gayatri rising to the occasion repeatedly despite the stupendous demands on their stamina and endurance.

The major gain from the music season was the display of an abundance of talent among violinists and percussionists. This trend would surely support the views of the optimists who see a rosy future for Carnatic music.

But junior musicians, including many talented youngsters, almost always performed before poorly filled auditoriums. Many vocalists created a good impression with their pleasant voices, good pathantara and intelligent presentation, but missing in most of them was depth of bhava, according to critics. Where are the new Sanjays and Vijay Sivas, Jayashris and Nithyasrees, asked many rasika-s who recall having to stand outside overflowing halls to listen to these present day stalwarts in their debut seasons a decade or so ago?

‘Tamil’ music received a fillip this season too, with Kartik Fine Arts hosting the Tamil Isai Festival in Anna Nagar, in addition to the customary celebration at Raja Annamalai Hall.

By and large, there seems to be an increased awareness of the aesthetics of stage decor all around, to go by some of the reports we received, though a few of the major venues including the Music Academy showed an unwelcome departure from good taste, with their loud, even gaudy decors. Acoustics again was an area of improvement this season in some of the main venues, though here too we are a long way from approaching the ideal.

“The rustle of the day’s Kutcheribuzz newssheet and the cell phone buzz from all sides were extremely disturbing to the serious listener,” says one of our correspondents. “Apart from those speaking into their cell phones, there were quite a number of youngsters continuously tapping away sms’s, the clicking sound irritating. Are they even aware of such a thing as concert etiquette?” she asks indignantly.

Did we really witness a distinct change in audience habits or was it a momentary aberration? The customary exodus during tani avartanam seemed to be reduced to a smaller number of coffee lovers making a beeline for the canteen at many venues. Perhaps Sruti’s ceaseless campaign against this practice has begun to yield results! (This view is contested by at least one of our contributors who maintains people continue to stage walkouts.)

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