Saturday, 24 December 2011

Talent going astray?

By Venkat
MR Subramaniam’s afternoon concert for Kartik Fine Arts on 14th December was both an eye-opener and a disappointment. It was an eye-opener because I understood why such a promising and talented youngster, coming from a great lineage with strong foundations, would so drastically change his presentation style. And the disappointment was because of this change.
I remember hearing young Subramaniam five years ago at Sastri Hall. While climbing the staircase to the hall, I could hear wafts of the music from inside, and my heart almost leaped out! How was I able to hear the pristine music of KVN, even after the master had passed on? Wasn’t it a boy singing?! And lo! As I entered the hall, there on the stage was this cherubic young 20-something, a mere lad, singing chaste and vintage music, KVN-style! I was genuinely impressed, and was very happy to see a worthy heir to the Master’s music! And then I got to know that the boy had trained under the legend too. He seemed to have internalised the best, most distilled features of his guru. The hall was filled almost to capacity, and the verve and vigour of the singer amazed me.
After that, I didn’t get much of a chance to follow his music. But I did note with some disappointment that his name was somehow skipping most of the main sabhas during every season after that.
Cut to the present: The hall has a smattering of barely 12 to 15 people. The artiste on stage is quite sullen and serious. On the violin is B. Ananthakrishnan and on the mridangam S.J. Arjun Ganesh. Subramaniam starts with Raga ratna in Reetigowla, a composition of Tyagaraja. The swaras are gripping, but I wait for him to blossom forth with his true moorings, with the hallmarks of his Master. Unfortunately the wait continues till almost the end of the concert. But I’m getting ahead of myself here. Subramaniam continues with Vachaspati raga alapana. His phrases start off in trite short bursts. He tries to paint a novel picture of the raga, but it falls flat. There are high points in his sanchara-s near the upper shadja, but they are very fleeting. Overall the raga is disjointed and the artiste seems to be grappling with vague ideas. Such a vast difference from his original training. KVN always believed that raga alapana had to be structured like beautiful essays, with a cohesive introduction, main body and finale.
Subramaniam then followed it up with the famous Sivan kriti Paraatpara Parameswara. Again at the niraval and swaraprastara at Ari-ayanum kaana, Subramaniam seemed to be frantically searching for something concrete, but till the end, it eluded both artiste and audience. He then sang a quick Ora joopu in Kannadagowla preceded by a short alapana, that did justice to the raga. Then came the main piece for the afternoon, Palinchu Kamakshi of Syama Sastri in Madhyamavati. Sadly the entire rendition inclusive of raga alapana, kriti rendition, niraval and swaras was for the most part, Brindavana Saranga (not to be confused with Brindavani). The quintessential kampita gamaka at the rishabha, madhyama and nishada, were simply absent, robbing Madhyamavati of its beautiful flavour. There were glimpses of pure Madhyamavati, but there were too fleeting to be enjoyed fully. He also engaged in very fast phrases that often fell flat and were out of pitch at too many places to be ignored.
In his quest to find his own music, Subramaniam, seems to have lost his way. Sartorially and stylistically he appears as an imitation of Abhishek Raghuram. Has he erroneously come to believe that discarding the heritage of his Master, and adopting the style of a current “star” will somehow make him original, even popular?
Despite himself, however, there were significant glimpses of his true heritage coming to the fore from time to time. His Nalinakanti alapana following the main piece (Tyagaraja’s Manavyala) and Andal’s Tiruppavai Undhu Madhakalitran (Saveri) were pure KVN. This boy has tremendous potential. He just needs to go back to his true roots, and do some serious soul-searching, rather than imitate this or that style. Given some time and effort, he will surely blossom forth in his true colours.

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