Saturday, 11 May 2013

Format and content

By Captain Mohan Ram

I read with interest the cover story Star Turn by T.T. Narendran in your February issue but beg to differ with him on one basic aspect. I heard Sanjay and T.M. Krishna recently at Gayana Samaja, Bangalore. I believe the format, structure and content of their Bangalore concerts were similar to what they had adopted in the Madras Music Academy.

Sanjay was rock solid, conventionally classical and excellent as usual. He started with a brisk Kanada varnam, followed by Pantuvarali, Sankarabharanam, RTP in Kanada again and a superb rendition of a pasuram on Tirukoshtiyur in ragamalika. The concert was like a sumptuous wedding feast with lots of dishes and perfect balance between them. One came out replete and happy.

Krishna’s fare in contrast was almost a-la-carte, starting with Todi swarajati, alapana of four ragas, followed by an Arabhi tanam and Tsala galla, tani in a tala left to the audience’s choice, two superb delineations of Baro Krishnayya and Krishna nee, followed by a moving ragamalika to the sloka Ramayya Ramabhadrayya and a few concluding pieces. Each piece by itself was magnificent but the overall result (to me) was a question mark.
Sanjay should include more Kannada sahityams in Bangalore performances. Audiences here relate to the music of the Dasas and long for lyrics they can readily understand. Except for a quickfire bridge piece in Mukhari, practically every major offering was in Tamil. Here, he might take a leaf out of Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar’s book. Iyengar was a master in gauging what the audience wanted and provided it without deviating from classicism.
Krishna was brilliant. After Mali and MDR, he brings to us in full the beauty and majesty of vilamba kala. Young audiences who normally prefer fast paced music are mesmerised by Krishna’s slow paced rendition.
The beauty of the Iyengar approach was perfect balance in tempo, contrasting ragas, and the feeling that everything was in its place. Carnatic music has been blessed with many trendsetters like Mali, magnificent but moody and unpredictable, and GNB who elaborated ragas in far greater detail than Iyengar ever attempted. They ventured into uncharted areas but still adhered to the time tested balance and structure of the Iyengar concert format.

Let us hope Krishna will continue to dare and push the envelope further and further. However, not all experiments succeed. I believe that the format he is currently adapting in concerts is not working well. Individually beautiful flowers randomly arranged do not make a glorious garland.

Format and content go together to make great music. They are two sides of the same coin. I cannot agree with Narendran’s contention that format is secondary and content is all.

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