Song of Surrender

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Indian Fine Arts Academy of San Diego Festival 2017

By Sukanya Sankar

Day 1: 2 April 2017

The Indian Fine Arts Academy (IFSAAD) has reached the milestone of a decade this year. It made a humble beginning in September 2007 as a small music circle group. The academy got a tremendous boost when over 90 patrons enthusiastically joined the organisation, and from then on there was no looking back. In its ten-year journey, IFSAAD has organised over 150 concerts and nurtured numerous young local talent. “We have established San Diego as a renowned world centre for Indian classical arts, celebrated the richness and diversity of India’s cultural heritage and projected Indian culture as well as our community in a positive light”, says Shekar Viswanathan, President and Secretary of IFSAAD. 

This year is perhaps the most celebrated year in Carnatic music, it being the 250th year of Tyagaraja. It also marks the centenary year of musician and scholar Dr. S. Ramanathan. 

The celebrations here at San Diego began on 2 April 2017, with much aplomb. Revathi Subramanian, music teacher and IFSAAD board member rendered the invocation—a beautiful viruttam written by Walajapet Venkataramana Bhagavatar describing Tyagaraja in metaphors—and the song  Guruvaru mahimala in Anandabhairavi. 

This was followed by a special panel discussion on ‘Appreciating the nuances in the compositions of Tyagaraja’ by the Hyderabad Brothers, Sangita Kalanidhi Trichy Sankaran, and Lalgudi G.J.R. Krishnan. Dr. Pappu Venugopala Rao, eminent scholar and academician, effectively moderated the crisp 90-minute session. The panelists explored the various nuances in the compositions of Tyagaraja, including the pallavi structure, importance of sangatis, niraval and the pathantaras that have since evolved. 

Hyderabad Brothers demonstrated the raga bhava in Tyagaraja’s compositions. The ri in Rama nine nammi (Huseini), the usage of rgrs in Chakkaniraja (Kharaharapriya) and the absence of the kakali nishada in Khamas in his compositions were highlighted. Describing Tyagaraja as a "Bhooloka Narada", Venugopala Rao went on to analyse the sangatis in Tyagaraja’s compositions. Trichy Sankaran said that many sangatis have influenced percussionists in the way they provide accompaniment in concerts. He also said that as an accompanist, it is extremely important to maintain a differentiation while playing for the pallavi, anupallavi and the charanam. 

Lalgudi G.J.R. Krishnan demonstrated the structure of compositions and how the anupallavi and charanam are linked to the pallavi. His lilting rendition of Teliyaleru Rama (Dhenuka), stole everyone’s heart. 

The discussion then moved on to the pathantaras in the Tyagaraja lineage and the variations within that. Venugopala Rao also drew attention to the fact that there are many compositions which are not composed by Tyagaraja but have his mudra and that musicians must apply caution while attributing these to the saint. He also spoke about Tyagaraja’s inspirations—Pothana and Bhadrachala Ramadas. Apart from sharing the same vision of Rama bhakti, their influence on Tyagaraja’s music is immense and has been displayed in many compositions. The most important and striking influence we see is the ‘sabda alankara’ (like in Vandanamu Ragunandana, Balakanakamaya).  It was interesting to listen to the panelists analysing every aspect of Tyagaraja’s compositions as they comfortably traversed over three languages—Telugu, Tamil and English. The panel came to a close at 4:59 pm (Pappuji Standard Time), justifying a wholesome 90-minute on the immortal nadayogi. 

It was followed by a moving concert by vainika Geetha Bennett, daughter and disciple of Sangita Kalanidhi Dr. S. Ramanathan. Geetha played compositions which were her father's favourites.  Starting with a beautiful Chenchuritti varnam and concluding with a stirring Chakravakam, it was indeed a fitting tribute to her father on his centenary. Geetha’s positive attitude and her husband Frank Bennett’s constant encouragement off-stage by keeping talam for the entire 60 minutes, was very moving and inspiring. 

The evening concluded with a thematic concert by Vijayalakshmi Subramaniam on 'Tyagaraja Bhakti Margam'. 

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