Song of Surrender

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Soul-Stirring Concert by TVG

By Srividya Ramasubramanian

London, 5 November 2013

At the age of 82, most of us would probably be bent, bitter, and bed-ridden, unable to hold a straight note in sruti. Here was Padma Bhushan awardee TV Gopalakrishnan, popularly known as TVG, singing with such gusto, energy, and enthusiasm that people half his age would have been left envious.

The occasion was the Chembai Memorial Concert at London’s Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan on 25th October, the first such celebration outside India honouring this legendary Carnatic musician of the 20th century.

TVG highlighted the musical contributions of his guru by sharing many personal anecdotes with the audience. He also played a few clips that exemplified the famous Chembai style of singing.

Keeping up the guru-sishyaparampara in London were disciples of  Sivasakti Sivanesan who began the evening by rendering as a group such popular kritis as Vatapi Ganapatim and Entavedukondu that have become synonymous with the Chembai style.

TVG was in tremendous form, singing with a majestic voice with precision, bhava, grace, and joy. Such music is not just technically perfect but stirs the soul and leaves a special mark in the listeners’ hearts for years to come.

The master storyteller that he is, TVG contextualized each piece with a story or anecdote or titbit. For instance, he related how Gopalakrishna Bharati woke up singing Sabhapatikku just a day after Tyagaraja asked him why he had not composed in the raga Abhogi.

TVG’s creativity shone brilliantly in the detailed Janaki Ramana set in Suddha Seemantini, a rare raga derived from Todi. He aptly brought out the beauty, devotion, and gentle purity of this raga that literally means “the pure first daughter.” His magnificent rendering of Nagumomu in chaste Abheri was an excellent example of how to bring out the beauty of this composition without slipping into typical clich├ęs while still maintaining sampradaya.

As a brilliant percussionist himself, TVG greatly encouraged the accompanying artistes, Balu Raghuraman on the violin, M. Balachander on the mridangam, Kandiah Sithamparanathan on the morsing, and Thanujen Chandrakumar on the ghatam, to bring out the best in them on stage. The camaraderie on stage was obvious and it was perfect that the concert ended with the devarnama “Tala beku.”

1 comment:

  1. Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavatar (1896-1976), From the "The Reminiscences of a Musician" by Prof Mysore V. Ramarathnam:
    Chembai was one of the top vocalists of the last century. He had a brilliant career throughout. The Chembai, Chowdiah, Palghat Mani Iyer trio has given nearly 3000 concerts. I came to know Chembai extremely well during my training with guru Chowdiah. Whenever Chembai came to Mysore to sing at the Bidaram Krishnappa’s Rama Mandiram during the Ramotsavam he invariably stayed in my Guru Chowdiah’s house. Chembai had a vigorous, strong, vibrant, ringing and resonant voice that had a rich metallic timbre, and accurate kala pramana. He was a disciplined and an ardent follower of tradition. His voice blended perfectly with sruti and worked wonders. I had the good fortune to listen many of his concerts with my guru on the violin and Palghat Mani Iyer on the mridangam. In his concerts he never failed to sing Vatapiganapatim, Raghuvara nannu and Sri BalaSubramanya. When someone asked him why he repeated these compositions he replied—‘‘It is because each one of these compositions has fetched me lakhs of rupees.’’
    I learnt from Chembai many of his favorite kritis such as Sri MahaGanapthim, Sri Balasubramanya, Raghuvara Nannu, Pallavi Gopala Iyer’s composition Amba naadu, Vinnapamu in the raga Todi, Varnams such as SarasijaNabha in Kamboji set to atta tala, etc. ‘‘Whichever composition you learn, you must practice it intensely to bring about the beauty of the raga. Unless this is done, it will be of no use’’ was his advice based on his long experience. By encouraging his disciples to listen to his concerts, he encouraged them to progress in their learning. My co-disciple C. R. Mani was also his disciple and a relative of Palghat Subba Iyer. The Bhagavatar used to provide opportunity to C.R. Mani to accompany him on the violin in his concerts. His accurate grasp of tala and laya was simply grand. Dakshinamurthy Pillai called him—Laya Brahma. ‘‘You should count the time measure and I should play’’ he said. Though he sang an ordinary pallavi, he would sing it by demonstrating the variety of time measures. Usually, his concerts would last not less than 5 hours.
    Chembai has another record as the person who could give three concerts in a day. After his concert at Bidaram Krishnappa’s Rama Mandiram in Mysore from 6 to 9 p.m., he sang his second concert from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. in the Kunchitiga’s Rama Mandiram and proceeded to Shankara Narayana temple in Chamundipuram for his third concert from 2 am to 5 a.m. Myself, the late GNB and my friend Dr. V. S. S.Acharya are eye witnesses. I remember GNB’s statement the next day —‘‘these are not ordinary men. These are the asura’s of the music field. If I sing one concert, I need to rest the whole of next day.’’ He spent all his earnings to build a temple in his native place. He was an ardent devotee of Sri Krishna of Guruvayur and instituted several services there. Like Mahatma Gandhi, he traveled in the third class by train. He used to walk 6-7 miles to Valvacode and board the train to travel to his concerts.
    Chembai had his vocal concerts till his last days. He also undertook a concert tour of Sri Lanka. One of Chembai’s last concerts took place at the town hall in Mysore with T.Rukmini on the violin and T. V. Gopalakrishnan on the mridangam. Chembai sang enthusiastically for more than three hours. He was about 76 then. He sang vigorously as always with rich brikas, effortless neravals and swarams. Once during his concert his concert in Jaganmohan Palace, Mysore he spotted me sitting in the back rows of the auditorium. He called me by name and asked me to come and sit in front of him. During the concert he told the audience in his thick voice “you are all truly blessed, you do not have to go out of town looking for a music vidwan. You have Ramarathnam right here in Mysore”. I can never forget the affection he showered on me till his final days. It will be with me forever.

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