S.Rajam’s (Music Appreciation notes)

Monday, 12 February 2018

Refreshing developments

K.N. Viswanathan

This season threw up some promising youngsters and surprising stars in music. To my pleasant surprise, I found that many young musicians had adopted a more open, bold akaram this time, especially in raga alapana, as compared to previous seasons. The following artists’ concerts stood out for me.

Amritha Murali’s performance at Nada Inbam on 1 January 2018, was an outstanding concert. She is clearly an emerging star, whose music needs to be followed closely.

Ramakrishnan Murthy’s music seems to be growing along disciplined lines. He stays away from unnecessary showmanship and cheap gimmicks, an admirable trait that needs to be emulated by young musicians.

Bharat Sundar did justice to his elevated slot at the Music Academy. He made a sincere attempt at singing in the higher octave in the Kambhoji raga alapana, with akaram driven phrases.

Vishnudev Namboodiri, in my opinion, deserves a break in the senior slot at the Music Academy. His music is of a high calibre.

Kalyanapuram Aravind gave an impressive concert at the Music Academy. His singing has much promise, provided he does not engage in excessive brigas and trains to sing with less vocal strain. I hope he continuesto maintain a sense of proportion in concerts, without going overboard in the manodharma sections.

Flutist J.A. Jayanth played a magnificent concert at the Music Academy. He is yet another artist whose music is worth following closely. He deserves a promotion to the senior slot at the Academy.

In their concert at Musiri Chamber, the Iyer Brothers from Australia, proved that they are seasoned professionals. It was a delight to listen to the pure, unadulterated tone of their veenas in perfect unison.

In sharp contrast, Jayanthi Kumaresh’s recital at the Music Academy, which was outstanding musically, was disappointing only because of the mandolin-like tone of her veena. It seemed to detract from the grandeur of her music.

Two less known artists drew attention for their performances this season: Aditya Prakash and Navaneet Krishnan performed on 31st December evening at Sastri Hall for the Sruti Pattabhiraman Memorial concerts. They were accompanied by heavy-weight veterans, and managed to carry their concerts with much aplomb.

I was particularly impressed by the way they apportioned their concerts, in such a manner that the post-main section was given as much importance as the pre-main and main sections of the concert.

Some senior artists thoroughly disappointed this season with poor raga choices for elaboration and ragam-tanam-pallavi. Ragas like Vasantabhairavi, Saramati and Hameer Kalyani were not ideal choices for elaborate manodharma.

A certain senior artist seems to have become careless and lackadaisical in performing, more so in recent years. Odd, non-musical sounds during raga alapana and high decibel shouting seem to have become the norm in the singer’s concerts. Yet the crowds continue to mill, mistaking the aural assault for music. It is a pity, because this musician is capable of much greater music. The only consolation that I can take home after attending a recital, is that he continues to maintain concert dharma.

A few artists in the sub-senior slot at the Music Academy did not provide the song list this year. I hope the Academy will strictly enforce the rule that artists must provide the song list in advance; especially the junior and sub-senior musicians. It shows a certain sense of discipline and commitment on behalf of the artist, rather than trying to “wing it”, singing a surprise list of songs and ragas, often falling flat.

I personally feel that varnams must be made compulsory as the opening piece at the Music Academy, especially for junior and sub-senior artists. Many musicians and rasikas feel that the varnam is merely a warming up exercise and relegate to it an unimportant status. This is not so. If there is anything we can learn from the concert planning of the old stalwarts, it is that the varnam is a crucial entry point for both the performer and the listener, into deeper raga bhava. A judicious choice of varnam at the beginning of the concert can set the pace and tone for the rest of the concert, ensuring consistent success for the musician.

It was a pleasant surprise to see many young musicians take up weighty ragas like Kambhoji (one might even say it was a Kambhoji season), Bhairavi, Kharaharapriya and Todi for elaboration, especially in the pallavi section.

In general, I felt that with better time management, more time could have been apportioned to the post-main section. In many ways, this section helps take the concert to a sublime plane. After the heavy-duty manodharma and tani avartanam for the main piece, the post-main section provides a beautiful contrast. A selection of songs rich in lyrical beauty allows the artist to raise the concert to a different level. This section, when done well and kept free of exhibitionism and technical acrobatics, helps connect with the listener at a deeper level.

(Disclaimer: In all fairness to artists not featured here, I did not attend all the concerts.)
(The author is a rasika)


  1. Thanks for sharing your concert experiences and views. It is always good to hear the thoughts of careful and thoughtful rasikas. I was particularly please to not that five of the singers you have mentioned have performed at Dhvani in Columbus Ohio. www.dhvaniohio.org. This must either be a remarkable coincidence or some careful screening to ensure that we present musicians who are sure to please your aural palate. Either way, lucky are we, the few, the small band of eager listeners in Columbus Ohio.

  2. Refreshing to see thoughtful reviews of the musicians.

    Good critics, keep musicians on their toes, while providing expert advice to the audience is very important.

    I look forward to more from this author.