Song of Surrender

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

KS Mahadevan remembered amidst lovely music

By V Ramnarayan

A music concert means different things to different people, it goes without saying. Some people would want every concert to be filled with Tyagaraja kritis, some like Dikshitar, others love Tamil compositions, so on and so forth. Swara fireworks appeal to the more knowledgeable rasika, and so does the ragam-tanam-pallavi. Some traditionalists set much store by niraval, in fact considering it a true measure of an artiste’s excellence. Tukkada enthusiasts cannot be ignored, with some of them partial to tillana, while a growing number of abhang-bhajan lovers throng the concerts of those specializing in those. And stars like Abhishek Raghuram have created a new band of raga alapana lovers, which is a welcome trend among young listeners.

Personally, I find the violin alapana riposte section of a Carnatic music concert particularly uplifting. (We are naturally assuming here that the violinist is of top quality). I find this section of a concert so reposeful and serene, especially if the hall has good acoustics, and when the violinist’s manodharma is inspired by an outstanding prelude by the vocalist. I am not sure how many listeners feel the way I do, but when in perfect sruti and the artist is handling it with expertise and complete focus, the violin can cast a calming, moving aural glow that I can only describe as spiritual. (Of course the spell is often broken when the vidwan accelerates to the higher speed, sometimes even resulting in cacophony).

R Raghul’s violin accompaniment at a recent vocal recital by Ashwath Narayanan (with appropriately complementary mridangam support by Kumbakonam Ramakrishnan) had that kind of sublime quality, for a considerable length of time, especially during the Purvikalyani alapana. Ashwath himself, so reminiscent in style of KV Narayanaswamy, created a mood of soothing quietude, never hurrying his phrases, making no attempts at artifice of any sort. This was rasa-soaked music in a pure voice that transported the audience to a world of deep bhava.

At this stage of his career, the young man can be forgiven if he tends to imitate his idol to the extent of copying some of his avoidable traits, but he can be a leader of his generation if he builds on his own strengths while reflecting the best qualities he has internalised from the KVN bani.

Before I forget, the concert prefaced a beautifully organised event to remember the late music critic KS Mahadevan. Full marks to the family for a tastefully got up programme, in which everything including the shawls to honour the guests on the dais (pronounced dias as usual) was in elegant good taste. The prominent patron of music Nalli Kuppuswami Chetty spoke with admiration of KSM and his gentle ways as a critic, even giving glimpses of his sense of humour. According to him, KSM wrote only good things about concerts while reserving his criticism for private conversations with the artists concerned. (Nothing much seems to have changed in music reviews, except perhaps for a lack of criticism even in private). He also spoke of his substantial contributions to the newspapers he wrote for, primarily the Indian Express, and his long stint as editor of the journal Shanmukha during his Bombay years. 

I had to tear myself away from the pleasant function, as I had another to attend (which I learnt later I should have avoided), so I could not listen to the other speeches (by Y Prabhu, K Balaji,who received the first copy of a commemorative volume on KSM from Nalli, PS Narayanaswamy, Padma Subrahmanyam, TR Subramaniam and VV Sundaram). Unfortunately it also meant that I missed Nithyashree’s concert that followed.

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