Organising the Oli concerts has thrown up peculiar challenges for the team. At Alamelu Mani’s concert, we needed to find an electronic tambura after reaching the venue. The artistes’ box was on its way from Kalakshetra Colony with musician Aruna Ranganathan, who was stuck in the cruellest of traffic jams in Adyar. While the Oli Team was stumped by this problem, Padma Shankar, the violinist for the day, led a running expedition to a nearby musician’s house from where one was sourced. The concert, as usual, began on time.
Alamelu Mani’s was the third out of the last four Oli concerts to start with the Kedaragowla varnam, after Vijay Siva and OS Thiagarajan, but we did not mind, for they brought different flavours to the same composition. The warmth Mrs Mani breathed into the tarasthayi rishabham in the last chittaswaram was a glowing start to what would unfold into a lovely concert.
After a bustling Saraseeruhasanapriye in Nattai, she launched into the rarely heard Sri Manini Manohara in Poornashadjam, with its lilting use of the double kaishiki nisadam. This was followed by an expansive Vasanta alapana that still revelled in minutiae. Sangati-s were woven around one or two notes, often going back and forth between them in various gamaka glides that changed shades with each sangati. Yet again, Subbaraya Sastry’s Sri Kamakshi was a pleasant surprise. The kriti is a treatise on the raga, and the swara-sahityam, true to the Sastry tradition, was pure genius.
After the concert, Alamelu Mani said, “Brindamma used to say that when the Sastry compositions come with a swara-sahityam, there is no need to sing any swaraprastaram for it. Whatever ideas there can be, have been covered by the composer.” After listening to her sing Sri Kamakshi, it would be hard to argue with that statement.
The main raga for the concert was Bhairavi. Yet again, the artist’s ultimate comprehension of the spiritual nucleus of the raga came to the fore as she went almost note by note developing the raga with precise phrases, peppered with expressive silences and stirring karvais. Padma was clearly influenced by the kind of sangati-s the senior vocalist sang, as she built on those themes, and created what looked like an image of Alamelu Mani’s alapana seen through a convex mirror. It is a testament to her ability that she can so spontaneously morph into the main artiste’s image, anticipating and understanding every single nuance, all the while keeping a little smile on her face. The composition chosen, again, from left field, was Swati Tirunal’s Palaya deva deva.
The Oli team does not choose the accompanists; we leave it to the main artistes. The fact that six different artistes of varied styles from K. Gayatri to Alamelu Mani have asked B. Ganapathyraman to play for them is a testament to his vidwat, and to how comfortable he makes the artistes feel on stage, both with his expert accompaniment and his disposition. The tani at this concert, for instance, was perfect for the way Alamelu Mani and Padma Shankar developed their niraval and swarams -- building on similar ideas and patterns. Another day, another artiste, and the tani would definitely have taken a wholly different flavour.
After the tani, came an almost dreamy Niddirayil Soppanattil in Pantuvarali, the raga’s reflective dhaivatam and rishabham and the sentimental pratimadhyamam bringing out the nayika’s distress beautifully.
There were murmurs before, during and after the concert that Oli should have made an exception and introduced amplification for this concert. The team considered it, and debated it at length -- one of the team even being in favour of introducing microphones. But we decided to stick to our founding principle, our USP, if you like, and kept the concert amplification free. Yes, it required closer listening to pick up on all the nuances -- and those nuances are aplenty in the Brindabani. One of the aims of the Oli movement was to encourage more intense listening, and if that means more concentration and more silence from the audience, we think we have achieved something.
Sami dayajuda - Kedaragaula - Adi – Tiruvotriyur Tyagayyer
Sarasiruhasanapriye – Nattai – Adi – Patnam Subramania Iyer
Sri mani ni manohara – Poornashadjam – Adi – Tyagaraja
Sri Kamakshi Katakshi - Vasanta –Adi – Subbaraya Sastry
Mamavaminakshi - Varali – Misrachapu – Muttuswami Dikshitar
Parvatininnu - Kalgada – Adi – Syama Sastry
Evaricichira – Madhyamavati - Adi - Tyagaraja
Palaya deva devagopala - Bhairavi – Adi – Swati Tirunal
Yalapadare - Begada - Tisratriputa - Kshetragna
Nittiraiyil soppanattil – Pantuvarali – Adi – Ghanam Krishna Iyer
Samayamiderara – Behag - Rupakam – Patnam Subramanya Iyer
Kadimodi - Saranga - Tiruppugazh - Arunagirinathar
Ni namarupamulaku - Saurashtram - Adi - Tyagaraja