Song of Surrender

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Amritha in sublime form

Oli Chamber Concert 2

By MV Swaroop

I barely entered the venue for the second Oli chamber concert - co-organiser Bharathi’s house - when a two-page, single-spaced introduction was thrust in my hands. I was to read it out. It had a mini biography of Oli, Amritha Murali, Ranjani Ramakrishnan, B. Ganapathyraman, Subbaraya Sastry and Annaswamy Sastry - a blend of creative minds that could, on a good day, produce an intoxicating musical cocktail.

“Coffee?” Bharathi asked, as I scanned the sheet to find some suitably heavy ragas on the list. I was coming straight from work, I could do with a coffee, I said.

The cosy drawing room, which, was empty but for a few sofas lined against the walls, mats covering every inch of the floor, and an iPod docking station filled up over the next forty-five minutes. Musicians, dancers, and rasikas, all settled down around the room in positions they found most comfortable.

When Amritha started with Begada, I realised that listening to mikeless concerts was going to be an exercise in re-training ears. Accustomed to bombardment, the ear was going to take some time to adjust to a voice whose volume was not artificially enhanced to sound louder than the accompanists. It would take some concentration to discern those Begada nuances she was so artfully weaving into her Sankari Neevani.

In a concert featuring the Syama Sastry family, it was but natural to expect Brinda’s distinct musical accent to make a haunting appearance. A ponderous rendition of the Todi kriti, Sri Kamalambike, was what we have come to expect from that style - a sort of beauty that seems just out of your grasp. You can’t put your finger on exactly what she is doing, but you know that it is somehow perfect.

A bright Parama Pavani (Athana) followed, before Amritha sank her teeth into a Kalyani alapana, exploring the reflective aspects of the raga in detail. Ranjani replied in the same vein, employing sensitive phrasing and meaningful pauses. Subbaraya Sastry’s Ninnuvinagatigana has a striking chittaswaram in the swara-sahitya format which the Sastry school has made its own, interwoven with a subtle rhythm that Ganapathyraman picked up on instinctively, and punctuated with the most dextrous pats. His experience and keen understanding of raga came to the fore, as he made the niraval simmer with his playing.

Amritha’s ability to couch her inventiveness in assured maturity was exhibited through a sprawling Bhairavi – Subbaraya Sastry’s Sri Lalite - at a lively tempo. Ranjani’s violin, which showed a moment or two of misbehaviour in the Kalyani, was back to its pleasing best, as she shadowed the niraval and swarams with verve and vivacity. After a beguiling korvai that took Ganapathyraman by surprise, Amritha signalled to him to play his tani. Without hesiation, he said, “You continue singing. This feeling is perfect, I don’t think a tani is needed now.” The gesture was a testament to how much he enjoyed playing that evening, how much of the music he appreciated.

After the concert ended with Venkatasailavihara (Hamirkalyani) and Vanajasana (Sri), Ganapathyraman told us about his father, Sethalapati Balasubramaniam’s voice, and how when he sang at one end of the street, even without a mike, you could hear it at the other. We hear it in the voices of the pre-microphone generation, don’t we? Mikes have perhaps changed music more than we realise. By the end of this year of Oli chamber concerts, we may have a clearer answer.

Oli, a yearlong project, aims to revive the tradition of intense participatory listening, up-close and personal. It features classical musicians in weekend chamber music performances twice a month, from February 2012. Established and up and coming artistes will alternate in this programmes. The senior artistes will showcase ragas and compositions based on their own tradition, special features of their gurus, or distinct aspects of their bani. The young artiste will present a theme-based recital in an attempt to revive and reclaim our musical heritage.

The concert
Amritha Murali - Vocal
Ranjani Ramakrishnan – Violin
B. Ganapathyraman– Mridangam

Besant Nagar | 18th February 2012 | 6.15 PM

Theme: Compositions of Subbaraya Sastry and Annasvami Sastry


The Artistes

Amritha Murali, a multi-talented musician, is known for her adherence to classicism. Amritha’s resonant voice and fertile imagination in combination with her pathantharasuddham make for a superior grade of music that is vibrant and insightful.

Ranjani Ramakrishnan, a disciple of her mother Sita Ramakrishnan is a much sought after accompanist. Her bowing technique and nuanced taste make her playing absolutely delightful.

B Ganapathyraman, a disciple of Kumbhakonam Rajappaiyer, comes from a musical lineage. His father, the wonderful singer Sethalapathy Balasubramanian, was a disciple of Papanasam Sivan. Ganapathyraman is known for his lively accompaniment and lends saukhyam and verve in equal measure to the concert.

The Theme

Subbaraya Sastry was the second son of the incomparable Syama Sastry. Besides learning from his father, Subbaraya Sastry was fortunate to learn under Tyagaraja himself and interact with no less than Muthuswamy Dikshitar. But the apple never falls far from the tree. Predominantly using his father’s style with “Kumara” as his mudra, Subbaraya Sastry composed in Telugu. Only 11 compositions of his have been passed on to this date. Each of his compositions brings forth the essence of the raga in all its splendour. All are in praise of “Devi” except for two, Ninnu sevinchina in praise of Lord Parthasarathy, and Venkatashailavihara in praise of Lord Venkatesa.

Annaswamy Sastry was the grandson of the illustrious Syama Sastry and the adopted son and disciple of Subbaraya Sastry. All of his compositions are in Samskritam, excepting the kriti Inkevarunnaru in Sahana. He has also composed tana varnams and pada varnams. He did not use a mudra.

Annaswamy Sastry’s style of composing is very similar to that of his grandfather. The chitta swara in the kriti Sri Kamakshi is noteworthy. Here the raga Saranga shines in all its splendour even without the usage of its characteristic suddha madhyama. What’s more, the swara-sahitya angas in Syama Sastry’s kriti Palinchu Kamakshi and varnam Dayanidhe are said to have been set by Annaswamy Sastry.

The connections continue across the generations. One of Annaswamy Sastry’s disciples, Tanjore Kamakshi, tutored Veena Dhanammal. Little wonder then, that the family of Veena Dhanammal have preserved and popularised the choicest of compositions of the Syama Sastry family in the most pristine manner.

Oli Chamber Concerts

Oli affords a platform for diverse styles of music, for rendering rare kinds of music, compositions which may not be suitable for a large audience, and allow greater freedom for manodharma music.

No microphones will be used so that the tonal qualities of voice and instrument may be reproduced with their natural timbre and resonance intact.

Oli features two concerts every month, at different venues; designed for an audience of 30-40 persons. These concerts are free.

Oli Chamber Concerts is an initiative of Gowri Ramnarayan, with Bharathi Ramasubban, MV Swaroop, and Rithwik Raja.

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