Song of Surrender

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Generation Next

By KS Kalidas

Athira Krishna

(Reproduced from Sruti 295, April 2009)
 
This girl from Tiruvanantapuram in Kerala is a revolutionary. At the age of eight, she decided to be a violinist, and that too a soloist! To someone who could identify raga-s at the age of three and grew up in a house where music filled the air during all the waking hours, Athira’s pursuit of music full-time is understandable but why solo? Today, at 21 and after suggestions from many well-meaning people that she should start being an accompanying artist rather than only a soloist, Athira does concede that there are advantages in providing accompaniment like increased visibility, learning a large number of kriti-s and different pathantara-s, but also states that the full potential of the violin cannot be realized as an accompaniment. It is not the ego problem of being a “main” artist rather than being relegated as a “side” artist. For one as talented as she is as a soloist with encomiums from Sangita Kalanidhi M Balamuralikrishna and Pandit Jasraj, her reasoning sounds convincing.

Athira traces her musical ancestry to six generations. In Kerala, her ancestors had the benefit of studying under Vadivelu of the Tanjavur Quartet and his descendants and disciples. Her grandfather Gopala Pillai spent nearly 20 years in Tanjavur and studied under the great Mannargudi Rajagopala Pillai. A co-disciple at the time was none other than Dr. S. Ramanathan. Thus the Tanjavur idiom got rooted in the family. Athira’s parents, Krishna Pillai and Leela, both acknowledged musicians in their own right, were her early tutors. At the age of 12, she got a CCRT scholarship to study under Prof. Easwara Varma at Tiruvanantapuram and in 2006, she got to study under flute maestro N. Ramani again with a scholarship. After Athira completed 12th standard her family moved to Chennai. She has expanded her tutelage under Prof. S.R. Janakiraman, from whom she is learning rare varnam-s and kriti-s, and Prof. T.R. Subramanyam who teaches her pallavi-s. Her guru-s have been mainly vocalists and the only violinist who taught her basics of violin playing was a local vidwan in Tiruvanantapuram. She has also learnt Western music from V.S. Narasimhan in Chennai and has passed the Level 5. She proposes to enter the Level 8 exam soon.

Her playing style is firm with “azhuttam” but the tonal quality is sweet with proper “ghana-naya” mix and her swarasthana-s immaculate even in fast prayoga-s. She has exploited the full range of octaves available in the instrument which is possible only to a soloist. She has created history by playing violin for 32 hours continously and won a Guinness World record and a Limca National record in 2003. She had won the National Balashree award from the former first lady Usha Narayanan in 2001. Former music-loving President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, in whose presence she had the opportunity to play in 2004 and 2007, gave away the “National Award in Music-2007” instituted by the Indian Music Academy run by Pt. Jasraj’s daughter Durga.

Athira got the opportunity of playing a double concert in Goa in 2007 when she played the Carnatic mode and Pt. Jasraj rendered the Hindustani. These were followed by a duo concert by both for about 90 minutes. Athira also won the “Infosys Education world - Young Achievers’ Award 2007”; there are too many more to mention here.

She has, over 13 years, given about 1000 concerts in various parts of India and abroad such as Russia, countries of the Middle East, Khirgistan, Kazakhistan, Singapore and Germany (where she had given a string of 19 concerts in various cities).

This hard working (she practises six to eight hours a day), single-minded girl with oodles of talent is a sure bet in Generation Next.

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