Thursday, 6 July 2017

An unforgettable musical experience

By P. Rajagopalan

The enchanting Carnatic vocal concert presented by two virtually unknown teenage girls—Archana and Samanvi (not siblings)—from Karnataka, on 9 June at the Ragha Sudha Hall, was an unforgettable musical experience. It was the third Ranjani Hebbar memorial concert, made possible by the Jayalakshmi and P.R. Srinivasan Endowment instituted by myself. Sometime during the past few weeks, Ranjani’s father, Aravinda Hebbar, had persuaded Jayalakshmi Balakrishnan, Secretary of Nada Inbam which administers the endowment, to let Archana and Samanvi present this year’s Ranjani memorial concert as their obeisance to their guru.

The programme began promptly at 6.15 pm with a brief welcome and introductory address by Jayalakshmi, following which special guest Chitravina N. Ravikiran shared his impressions on the music and legacy of the extraordinarily gifted vocalist, the late Ranjani Hebbar. Aravinda Hebbar introduced the artists of the evening and it was then that we learnt that Archana and Samanvi had their initial training under Ranjani’s mother, Vasanthalakhmi and then from Ranjani herself for a few years until her sudden and sad demise. They are under the tutelage of Ravikiran for the past three years. 

Before I proceed any further, I must confess that I am neither a musician, nor a musicologist, nor even a music critic. I write this to only introduce this extremely talented, dynamic duo to Sruti readers and, inter alia, to the Carnatic music lovers around the world. Archana and Samanvi began their concert with a brisk varnam in lilting Saranga. By the time the pallavi was over, the skeptical audience of about 80 persons sat up fascinated. When the anupallavi was rendered at a faster pace, we were stunned not only by the melodious and sonorous voices of the duo that blended as one in perfect alignment with sruti, traversing the three octaves with consummate ease, but also by the poise and confidence exuded by them. At the end of the varnam there was thunderous applause. Next was Archana’s brief but delectable delineation of the majestic Arabhi raga followed by Oothukadu Venkatasubba Iyer's captivating kriti Pranavakaram, including a few avartanas of swaras rendered by the duo which lifted the concert to a higher plane.

Not to be outdone, Samanvi took on the solo exposition of the ever popular and melodious Brindavana Saranga to portray the raga in all its glory. The beautiful Dikshtar kriti Saundararajam asraye was rendered by the duo with deep religious fervour soaked in melody. The Tamil kriti Enna punniyam in Reetigaula by Oothukadu Venatakavi followed and was presented sans raga alapana and swaraprastara but oozing with rakti and bhakti. Next came the piece de resistance of the concert, the Tyagaraja kriti Paramatmudu velige in raga Vagadeeswari. Although this is a vivadi raga, it is an enchanting and moving one which is very tricky and difficult to elaborate. Archana and Samanvi took turns to develop the raga in stages with intricate prayogas and embellishments such that, when it ended, the raga devata seemed to appear before us in all its glory. The kriti was rendered with fervour and adorned with elaborate niraval and swaraprastara. The fast-paced kriti Vinanasakoni in raga Pratapavarali by Tyagaraja, set the stage for the delineation of Todi and the immortal kriti Kaddanuvariki. Every aspect of the raga was dealt with elan and finesse and the kriti, with its many sangatis, niraval and swaras, was superb. The mridangam solo by young Sunada Krishna Amal that followed was scintillating. The kritis Varunappriyan by Ravikiran in Varunapriya, Rangayya nine by Purandaradasa in Hamsanandi, and the ragamalika comprising 16 ragas beginning with Saranga, were all infinitely pleasing. Archana and Samanvi chose the intricate thaya ragamalika tillana composed by M. Blamuralikrishna as the final item of their concert.

I came to know after the concert that this tillana comprising five ragas—beginning with Kalyani, and followed by Sankarabharanam, Mohanam, Hindolam, and Darbari Kanada each of which leads, from Kalyani, to the next in order by graha bhedam. The duo rendered this challenging tillana with gay abandon and exuberance, moving from one raga to the next seamlessly with emphasis on the intricate laya patterns. I would be remiss if I do not mention that the young violinist, M. Shrikanth was amazing and his violin support was invaluable.

From the beginning of the concert I was transported to a realm of pure, divine musical bliss the like of which I had experienced only a few times in my life. May God bless young Archana and Samanvi with continued success for them to be shining stars in the Carnatic music firmament in the very near future! 

Before I conclude, I would like to touch upon some unethical and unsavoury practices that are rampant in the highly competitive field of Carnatic music, among which are some senior musicians pushing their mediocre progeny to prominence, wealthy people making substantial ‘donations’ to some sabhas to provide a forum for their children to perform, and VIP’s and other prominent persons pressurising sabha officials with their recommendations. This travesty robs really talented youngsters as Archana and Samanvi of opportunities to get ahead without a struggle. In order to counter this, my suggestion would be for senior musicians to identify brilliant newcomers and become their mentors (not gurus), to guide them and also use their influence to find them opportunities to perform.

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