S.Rajam’s (Music Appreciation notes)

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

A fabulous concert

Random Notes
by V Ramnarayan
"It was the best concert by a male Carnatic vocalist I've heard in my life," said my friend, who has been a rasika and a connoissseur for well over five decades. Not known to shower praises on any musician young or old unless he or she scales unusual heights, Jayaram was obviously moved by his recent listening experience. This was a rare occasion when we two old codgers spent the greater part of an hour waxing eloquent over a Carnatic music performance the night before.
We were discussing TM Krishna's concert—on the evening of 7 August as part of the Dhanammal tribute organised by the Brinda Repertory at Chennai. It was a meditation, for want of a better description. A self confessed worshipper at the altar of Veenai Dhanammal and her legatees, Krishna soaked himself and an over 200 strong audience in the still, deep waters of that stream of raga music.
Yesterday, I was to learn at a lecture demonstration that T Brinda used to say she preferred to listen to Hindustani rather than Carnatic music. Whether or not the grande dame meant that seriously, I too have been guilty of such blasphemy, whenever tired of the soulless pyrotechnics on offer on the Carnatic music platform. The concerts during the Veenai Dhanam programme certainly brought such naysayers back to the Carnatic music fold.
[The day before the Krishna concert, Chitravina Ravikiran (with violinist Akkarai Subhalakshmi and khanjira vidwan BS Purushotham accompanying him) had transported us to a primordial universe of pure music, while his disciple Dr Sivakumaran—with Kallidaikurichi Sivakumar on the mridangam—who preceded TMK on the 7th gave us glimpses of the rich nadam of the veena].
TM Krishna was in great voice. How much hard toil must have gone into the transformation of what has always been a rich voice into a smooth instrument capable of producing infinite modulations from the lowest to the highest reaches, with no harshness or nasality anywhere! He was in such vocal command that it seemed to me that he produced a number of violin (and nagaswaram)-like phrases which Shriramkumar was reprising.
Concentrating on varnam, padam and javali in honour of the Dhanammal tradition, not to mention viruttam singing of a high order, Krishna evoked oohs and ahs from the members of the family in the hall whose joy of recognition must be the ultimate acknowledgement of the authenticity both Krishna and his soulful violin accompanist accomplished that evening.
The percussionists Delhi Sairam (mridangam) and Anirudh Athreya (khanjira) were not far behind. While Anirudh's familiarity with the bani is not surprising given his Papa Venkataramiah lineage so closely linked to the Dhanammal school, Sairam's unsentimental delicacy of touch was a revelation. Never loud, the left hander lent the music a rare lilt at the most appropriate moments when he intuitively broke into delightful trots. The facial expressions of both Anirudh and Sairam mirrored an unmistakable sense of joy pervading their music.
It was hardly surprising that Krishna was often apparently listening to an inner music—sometimes with wet eyes. We have all come to expect such on-stage demonstrations of bliss by him. This did not fail to rub off on the supreme accompanist that Shriramkumar is. The palpable pleasure of both lead musicians—for that is what they are in the neomodern TMK concert universe—led to some spontaneous raga music of high quality. Krishna is definitely among the most generous main artists around, and I wonder if Shriramkumar enjoys such freedom while accompanying any other musician. Totally uninhibited, Shriram moved the audience with some rare manodharma flourishes, not to mention the beautiful detailing of the sangatis in kritis. Krishna's visible appreciation of his sallies was matched by his encouragement of the percussionists.
Krishna's tanam singing was exemplary, pleasantly surprising in its placement, though all too brief. The tanam syllables were beautifully enunciated.
An interesting takeaway for me from the concert has been the insight that ragas need not be rasa-specific. I have always wondered about this aspect of raga music, wondered if it were not possible to bring about any rasa in any raga. The tenderness of Krishna's Athana seemed to add credence to my belief.
To give a quick summary of the ragas of the evening, we heard Kalyani, Begada (a varnam and a padam), Bhairavi, Purvikalyani, Sahana, Varali, Kambhoji, Khamas, Athana, and Yamunakalyani, though this list may be incomplete, perhaps incorrect, as I did not take any notes at the concert. And yes, all the famous songs of the Dhanammal family repertoire were there—from Yarukkagilum bhayama to Janaro.
Krishna and his team proved that it is possible to create an atmosphere on stage and immerse the audience in it. They in fact seemed to go beyond that and pave the way for the creation of a new aesthetic for Carnatic music, building on an old tradition.
The thoughtful programming of the Veenai Dhanammal 150 celebration has made it an admirable initiative. We must compliment the Brinda Repertory wholeheartedly.

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