Many veterans of the previous century had always been against the microphone, notable among those being Palghat Mani Iyer and Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer. So it was intriguing for a youngster like me to see how a concert without mikes would be, having been used to hearing music with micrpohones. This led me to the mikeless concert organised by The ARTery in Royapettah. The proximity of the audience to the performing musicians is a great boon in this venue. The way rasikas maintained talam and didn’t use mobile phones or get up during the Thani Avarthanam highlighted the need for more such spaces.
The concert was by Smt. S Sowmya and Sri D Seshachari, one of the Hyderabad Brothers. What struck the listener was the stark difference between both the styles. Seshachari had a masculine style dominated by straight notes, reminding one of Alathur Subbier. Also, the kanakku element was dominant in his rendering of kalpanaswaras. On the other hand, Sowmya was at her feminine best, expressing the best ideas of the Dhanam school. The intricate gamakas reminded one of T Brinda and T Muktha. While the individuality was visible in the alapanas, the duo combined well to give a wholesome offering.
The bill of fare comprised of a good mix of popular and not so oft heard krithis. In the beginning, there was Chinna Nadana (Kalanidhi), followed by a concise exposition of Suruti (Aadidum Arase). The Suruti krithi is a composition of Dr. S Ramanathan, Sowmya’s guru whose centenary year is being observed. The pallavi was beautifully structured and reminded one of the music of the doyen with its simplicity. Dhyaname Varamaina in Dhanyasi followed. A quick Ni Bhakthi Bhagya Sudha in Jayamanohari enlivened the proceedings. The highlight of the concert was a serene Veena Pusthaka Dharini in Vegavahini. The slow pace of the krithi in the serene atmosphere was sheer bliss.
The main piece of the evening was Ethavunara, preceeded by an elaborate alapana. The differing styles were so refreshing to hear. It was reflective of the variety which Carnatic Music offered. BU Ganesh Prasad’s reply on the violin was refreshing. The krithi followed with niraval and swaram at the traditional Seetha Gowri. The Thani Avarthanam by Mannargudi Eswaran was energetic and well received by the audience.
The post thani segment had a lot of padams and javalis which included Ososi (Mukhari), Taarumaaru (Natakurinji), Nithirayil (Panthuvarali) and Telesunura (Saveri). The musicians rendered the pieces alternatively. The brilliance of the Dhanam school was evident from Sowmya’s rendering. The pathantharam of Dhanam school is truly rich in its content and was soaked with intricate gamakas, voice modulation and so many different phrases. The magic of the Dhanam school is something truly one of its own and Dr Sowmya needs to be appreciated for her adherence to that style in its entirety.
The concert was one which would linger for a long time in the minds of the rasikas who attended the same. The atmosphere without electric lighting, without mikes and chairs made one wonder whether the doyens were actually right in what they said. While technology has definitely aided in taking Carnatic Music to the masses, a doubt lingers whether chamber music in this type of setting is the best setting possible. One more thing which could set in is higher interaction between the audience and the artistes. That would truly take us back to the good old days. Kudos to the organisers “The ARTery” for this idea and putting the show together.