Saturday, 31 December 2011

Nuanced rendition

By PNV Ram

The first time I heard Ramakrishnan Murthy was at Savita Narasimhan’s home a few years ago. His mentor, she swore by his talent and dedication to his art. “He’s a lad from Irvine, California and sings like an angel,” she had said by way of an introduction. My wife and I listened to this slim, pleasant looking young man sing for a little over an hour, obviously handicapped by a sore throat and temperature. We were impressed by his nuanced pathantara, with several indications that he was influenced by the late KVN and Ramnad Krishnan. I now know that Padma Kutty was an early guru, followed by Delhi Sundararajan.

That first impression was certainly favourable and so were Murthy’s (or Ram’s, going by the way friends address him) pleasant demeanour and quiet confidence. The one question mark was his relative lack of akaaram. Was that a case of imitating his vocal heroes in their later years?

For one reason or another, I kept missing Ram’s concerts in the years after that first listening experience—until last week’s afternoon cutcheri at the Music Academy. It was easily the best of the performances I had attended among the junior vidwans and vidushis this Season. His expansive treatment of Kambhoji (Evari maata, Tyagaraja), the major raga of the afternoon, was fit to be compared with the best renditions of the season. With its fearless exploration of the octaves in manodharma, and razor-sharp sruti suddham, it was a tour de force worthy of a champion singer of the past or present.

Ramakrishnan Murthy continued his delightful forays into the nooks and corners of ragas in all the subsequent pieces of the concert, especially in the raga Devagandhari, that delicious amalgam of musicality and surrender. He enjoyed excellent support from Rajeev on the violin and Harinarayanan on the mridangam.

And yes, Ramakrishnan seems to have come a long way in his progress in akaaram-oriented singing, especially while rendering kritis. In raga alapana, however, he still needs to convert his half-hearted “ays” into full blown “aahs.” Once he does that, his music will acquire an altogether more commanding dimension. Of course, the small detail of his head remaining firmly attached to his shoulders will go a long way in keeping him on a steady path of ascent.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Desperate need for talent management

By Bala Shankar

There was a lament in the blog that star talents in Carnatic music may be drying up. It is arguable, but the surface perception is not wrong. Facts belie this though. How do you explain the ever growing number of artistes, performances and sabhas? Are all the 500 odd young musicians keeping daylong vigil at the platforms unsuited to claim tomorrow’s glory? This perception creeps in as the rigour of talent development has subordinated itself to the clamour for concerts. There are some very bright talents, but probably not well cooked. It’s also a challenge to look through the dust to unearth the diamonds. The answer may lie in putting in place a robust talent management process. This is a desperate need.
Good talents have to be nurtured through careful calibration of their abilities. Fundamental to this would be an independent accreditation system that can objectively rank them – maybe a controversial idea, but absolutely necessary. Controversy on objectivity must be handled through handing over the job to an unimpeachable group of people who have no vested interests. The criteria and process have to be transparent. The system in All India Radio ratings could be a guide (even if it is sometimes challenged). A talent chart would counter the present culture of “self-promotion”, “paid concerts” and vested viral campaigns for and against. It would also fix more responsibility on the gurus – who should take part of the blame for the unregulated concert quality. Such a system would gradually force the sabhas to rearrange opportunities based on the chart. In fact, the leading sabhas can pilot the initiative, while keeping the jury independent.

An appeal to musicians

By Bala Shankar

There is a never-ending debate on whether audience quality is shaped by artistes or the other way around. Be it renaissance age paintings, creations of the Trinity or more recently, in several individual sports, the creators or artistes have shaped destiny. (The mile race speed record is rewritten every few years). Performers have the same kind of duty – to lift audience sensibilities. We have moved irreversibly to a shorter version of concerts (from 4 hours to even less than 2 hours). The axis has shifted in other ways too with packaged, dressed and “branded” music being ushered in. If the music is not branded, the musicians are. All these are not without their unintended consequences.

A whole generation of audiences is more and more being exposed to a new LCM (lowest common multiple) of Carnatic music taste. Even more, a whole new generation of promising talents are setting their goals based on the new lower LCM. I heard several youngsters with good capabilities but the misdirected priorities of just delivering well-rehearsed programmes. Whatever happened to the unique manodharma character of our music? Is it just equal to practised raga alapanas and high speed swarams?

I appeal to all musicians to keep up the high standards. The audience would love the challenge to appreciate those high standards and will rise up to them. The new artistes would also know the real boundaries of excellence and will strive to push the envelope. In every field, standards are being improved with every move. Why not in Carnatic music? Audience popularity goals should not be a limiting factor to the standards. We should find other ways to lure more fence sitters or neutrally oriented people to listen to Carnatic music, not through the conversion of concerts to CD albums.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Two memorable concerts

By PNV Ram
Two concerts in the senior slot stand out among those I have attended so far at the Music Academy this Season—Sangeetha Sivakumar’s vocal cutcheri and a veena duet by Padmavathy Ananthagopalan and Jayanthi Kumaresh. I remember being highly impressed by young Sangeetha at the start of her career, which included some very sensitive singing for the dance of Lakshmi Viswanathan. Since then, there was a lingering feeling of promise unfulfilled, in that she did not quite reach the top of the heap in the Carnatic music concert circuit. Her O Jagadamba (Ananda Bhairavi, Adi, Syama Sastri) on 20 December at the Academy was an emotive prelude to a quite magnificent Todi alapana followed by Tyagaraja’s Endu daginado (Todi, Misrachapu), served in a grand, measured style fast going out of vogue. VVS Murari’s violin accompaniment was quite outstanding, wringing every bit of the rasa of the ragas on offer that evening. Shertalai R Anantakrishnan’s mridangam was not far behind in terms of quality of accompaniment, though he and an enthusiastic B Rajasekhar overstretched what started as a brilliant tani, resulting in the unfortunate abridgement of the ragam-tanam-pallavi in Pantuvarali. With this excellent performance, Sangeetha managed to emphasise an old cricket truism: Form is temporary, but class is permanent. Here’s hoping her recent surge is indeed permanent!
Aunt and niece simply stole the show, with some of the chastest, most majestic veena heard in a while, with even the pick-up microphones failing to distort the sound. (Ironically, some of the better versions of these instrument-amplifiers are referred to as acoustic mikes, an oxymoron I will not object to if their effect is as pleasant as the music on 17 December at the Academy. Their Tyagaraja kriti Tulasi bilva in Kedaragowlai will linger long in my mind’s ears as will their Sankaram (Kamalamanohari, Rupakam, Dikshitar), and the many-splendoured Bhajare re chita (Kalyani, Misrachapu, Dikshitar) they painted in the most tasteful, yet vibrant colours, to complete a deeply moving canvas. Earlier, starting with the Kambhoji varnam by Vadivelu of the Tanjavur quarter, and continuing with the lilting Tatvamariya (Ritigowlai, Adi, Papanasam Sivan) and thrilling Mohanam (Bhavanuta, Tyagaraja), they raised high audience expectations that were fully realised with what followed. The percussion accompaniment by R Ramesh (mridangam) and H Sivaramakrishnan (ghatam) were perfect foil to the vainikas. All in all, a genuine treat for listeners of authentic Carnatic music.
Among the youngsters I have heard so far this season, Ramakrishnan Murthy must be the most accomplished, to go by the evidence he provided at the Music Academy on 27 December. Among the vocalists on the verge of promotion to the senior slot, Amritha Murali, gave an immaculate performance as always on Christmas afternoon. More about them later.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Outstanding concert

By Venkat
Ramakrishnan Murthy’s concert at the Ramana Kendra on 16th December, was outstanding. He was accompanied by R. Raghul on the violin and L. Subramaniam on the mridangam.
Ramakrishnan Murthy began his concert with Tyagaraja’s Jayantasena kriti Vinatasuta vahana. He then took up Sahana as the submain raga, weaving intricate and layered details throughout. His sancharas bore fidelity to tradition yet seemed fresh and new. He took up Tyagaraja’s Ee Vasudha at a sprightly pace with wonderful niraval-swaras in the charanam line “daasa varada tyagaraja hridaya”. Murthy has not only been trained very well by his guru-s, he has also taken the pains to understand the aesthetics of stalwarts like Ramnad Krishnan, K.V. Narayanaswamy and Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer. His Sahana alapana bore glimpses of Ramnad’s electric phrases. In moulding his voice and exploiting its strengths, he has taken after KVN. His voice is not robust, yet his musical ideas and their execution are robust indeed. His rendering of Syama Sastry’s Devi Brova in Chintamani was filled with the bhava aesthetics of KVN and I felt quite overwhelmed with emotion during some of the heart-wrenching sections of the song.
A brisk Bantureeti of Tyagaraja (Hamsanadam) with brief and brisk swaras at the pallavi was an apt interlude. Then came the magnum opus of the evening, Sankarabharanam. Murthy, along with Raghul on the violin, coaxed and cajoled Sankarabharanam into a thousand hues, at once arresting, at once mellow. Ramakrishnan Murthy was in his element, singing his heart out. The brilliant ecstasy of Sankarabharanam just burst forth in his raga alapana. He packed the raga essay with layers upon layers of depth-filled phrases. The main kriti was “Dakshinamoorte” of Muttuswami Dikshitar. His kriti rendition was neat, with a few graceful flourishes peppered amidst the more austere ones. His chosen line for niraval was “nirvikalpa samaadhi...” in the charanam. He built his niraval essay on the lines of classic Semmangudi techniques, building up the niraval to a crescendo. However instead of going to the madhyama kala niraval, he gave a neat finish in samakalam and moved on to swaras. Nevertheless, it was a masterly attempt.
The swaras woven both in the first and the second speeds did full justice to the expansiveness of Sankarabharanam, while at all times adhering to aesthetic boundaries. This is one point where I feel Murthy scores over most other young vocalists today. He has been assiduously trained in the tradition of restraint in music, a very important aspect that most have forgotten. His concert planning, the time he assigns to manodharma vinyasa, the amount of time to be taken by sub-main and main pieces, judicious time assigned to tukkadas, and despite all this finishing the concert on the dot - these are traits that every sangeetha vidyarthi must learn from Ramakrishnan Murthy. He never overdoes any sanchara or idea, yet paints a holistic picture, at all times giving the feeling of fullness, never a lack. Off late there is a slight roughness in his voice in the tara sthaayi sancharas and he would do well to take more care of his voice, limiting the number of concerts he accepts.
Raghul on the violin played the perfect shadow to Ramakrishnan Murthy. His sancharas in Sahana and Sankarabharanam were delectable. I have been watching Raghul grow over the years from strength to strength, and it is amazing to watch this young violinist create magic every time with his violin. In the ragamalika shloka section, he wove his way through all the raga-s covered by the vocalist with equal aplomb and crisp brevity. Raghul is an asset to any concert in which he accompanies.
Subramaniam on the mridangam is a student of KS Kalidas. While being trained in the vintage techniques of the Palani school, he still lacks the maturity to accompany songs. He should study song accompaniment, even study some vocal music, to augment his accompanying skills. He plays in a very loud manner that drowns out all the other music. His tani was well executed but he was meandering too much, taking far too much time to come to the point.

Monday, 26 December 2011

The Vazhuvoor stars at the Natya Kala Conference

By S. Janaki
The icons and star disciples of Natyakala Kesari Vazhuvoor Ramiah Pillai at the Natya Kala Conference. Kamala, Rhadha, Padma and Chitra recalling old times. A moment filled with warmth and nostalgia.

An unusual all rounder

By PNV Ram
Had he just focussed on the violin, he might already have gone down as one of the great solo and accompanying Carnatic violinists of all time, fit to rank with giants like Lalgudi G Jayaraman and TN Krishnan. As it is, he is certainly ranked with the top accompanists of today, with a sound as sweet as the best the instrument can offer. The trouble with—or rather the value of—Sriram Parasuram is that his accomplishments in music are wider than most musicians can only dream of, even if they have the breadth of vision to look beyond their own area of specialisation.
Both heredity and environment must have played equal parts in the evolution of this multifaceted artist who straddles the musical universe with expertise in several genres—both vocal and violin, Carnatic and Hindustani—and more than passable skill in western classical, jazz, sufi, folk and film music.  With an MBA from IIM-C—following his mechanical engineering degree from Bombay University—and a PhD in world music from the Wesleyan University, Connecticut, USA, Sriram built a superstructure of amazing variety on his upbringing in a typically academically inclined Tamil household in Mumbai also steeped in south Indian classical music. 
Many have been the deeply satisfying concerts in which Sriram’s empathetic, bhava-soaked bowing has enhanced the music of lead musicians such as his guru, flautist Tanjavur Viswanathan, contemporary instrumentalist Chitravina Ravikiran or veteran vocalists like RK Srikantan and Nedunuri Krishnamurti. On such occasions, you are transported to another, exalted zone, by a man you are convinced was born to play the violin, and wish he would go deeper still into the realm of Carnatic music with his instrument. But then you listen to a lecture-demonstration by him—along with Hindustani vocalist Suhas Vyas—on south Indian ragas in Hindustani music; a musical tribute to the genius of Subbarama Dikshitar who codified a sizable treasury of Carnatic compositions in his Sangita Sampradaya Pradarsini of 1904; his presentation of Kabir’s poetry with folk singer Prahlad Singh Tippanya; or his popular TV programme Ellame Sangeetam Taan (It’s All Music), partnered by his wife and well known film singer Anuradha Sriram, in which he switches effortlessly in his role of vocalist from Carnatic alapana and compositions to Hindustani music, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan songs, ghazals and Hindi film songs, and you know that it is impossible to tie such a versatile talent down to one form or branch of music.
Like such famous south Indians before him as A Kanan and N Rajam (Hindustani classical), Hariharan and Shankar Mahadevan (Hindi film and popular music), and a few others, Sriram Parasuram has mastered an idiom outside his own natural legacy. Learning Hindustani vocal music from the late Pt. CR Vyas, he has reached the level of accomplishment of a ‘native’ practitioner. The difference is that Sriram is of concert level proficiency in both systems.
Sriram Parasuram has collaborated with musicians from different cultures. Javanese Gamelan, West African drumming, and Japanese Koto are some examples of exotica he has played or sung along with. Born in a musically gifted family he partnered his brothers Viswanath and Narayan (Three Brothers and a Violin) and composed the music for an award winning Hindi pop album Savariya. With his wife, he directed the music for the Tamil film Five Star and produced a Tamil pop album Chennai Girl. He has been awarded the President’s gold medal for Carnatic and Hindustani music.
What impresses you most about Sriram and Anuradha, even more than their versatility—she too is proficient in numerous styles of music including classical—is their firm belief that ellame sangeetam taan. Sriram can render a perfect alap and bandish, follow it without an interval with a complex ragam-tanam-pallavi and finish with a romantic film song, all in one afternoon, with not a trace of one form in another.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Talent going astray?

By Venkat
MR Subramaniam’s afternoon concert for Kartik Fine Arts on 14th December was both an eye-opener and a disappointment. It was an eye-opener because I understood why such a promising and talented youngster, coming from a great lineage with strong foundations, would so drastically change his presentation style. And the disappointment was because of this change.
I remember hearing young Subramaniam five years ago at Sastri Hall. While climbing the staircase to the hall, I could hear wafts of the music from inside, and my heart almost leaped out! How was I able to hear the pristine music of KVN, even after the master had passed on? Wasn’t it a boy singing?! And lo! As I entered the hall, there on the stage was this cherubic young 20-something, a mere lad, singing chaste and vintage music, KVN-style! I was genuinely impressed, and was very happy to see a worthy heir to the Master’s music! And then I got to know that the boy had trained under the legend too. He seemed to have internalised the best, most distilled features of his guru. The hall was filled almost to capacity, and the verve and vigour of the singer amazed me.
After that, I didn’t get much of a chance to follow his music. But I did note with some disappointment that his name was somehow skipping most of the main sabhas during every season after that.
Cut to the present: The hall has a smattering of barely 12 to 15 people. The artiste on stage is quite sullen and serious. On the violin is B. Ananthakrishnan and on the mridangam S.J. Arjun Ganesh. Subramaniam starts with Raga ratna in Reetigowla, a composition of Tyagaraja. The swaras are gripping, but I wait for him to blossom forth with his true moorings, with the hallmarks of his Master. Unfortunately the wait continues till almost the end of the concert. But I’m getting ahead of myself here. Subramaniam continues with Vachaspati raga alapana. His phrases start off in trite short bursts. He tries to paint a novel picture of the raga, but it falls flat. There are high points in his sanchara-s near the upper shadja, but they are very fleeting. Overall the raga is disjointed and the artiste seems to be grappling with vague ideas. Such a vast difference from his original training. KVN always believed that raga alapana had to be structured like beautiful essays, with a cohesive introduction, main body and finale.
Subramaniam then followed it up with the famous Sivan kriti Paraatpara Parameswara. Again at the niraval and swaraprastara at Ari-ayanum kaana, Subramaniam seemed to be frantically searching for something concrete, but till the end, it eluded both artiste and audience. He then sang a quick Ora joopu in Kannadagowla preceded by a short alapana, that did justice to the raga. Then came the main piece for the afternoon, Palinchu Kamakshi of Syama Sastri in Madhyamavati. Sadly the entire rendition inclusive of raga alapana, kriti rendition, niraval and swaras was for the most part, Brindavana Saranga (not to be confused with Brindavani). The quintessential kampita gamaka at the rishabha, madhyama and nishada, were simply absent, robbing Madhyamavati of its beautiful flavour. There were glimpses of pure Madhyamavati, but there were too fleeting to be enjoyed fully. He also engaged in very fast phrases that often fell flat and were out of pitch at too many places to be ignored.
In his quest to find his own music, Subramaniam, seems to have lost his way. Sartorially and stylistically he appears as an imitation of Abhishek Raghuram. Has he erroneously come to believe that discarding the heritage of his Master, and adopting the style of a current “star” will somehow make him original, even popular?
Despite himself, however, there were significant glimpses of his true heritage coming to the fore from time to time. His Nalinakanti alapana following the main piece (Tyagaraja’s Manavyala) and Andal’s Tiruppavai Undhu Madhakalitran (Saveri) were pure KVN. This boy has tremendous potential. He just needs to go back to his true roots, and do some serious soul-searching, rather than imitate this or that style. Given some time and effort, he will surely blossom forth in his true colours.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Paramatmudu for Trichy Sankaran

By S Sivaramakrishnan

Trichy Sankaran accompanied Chitravina Ravikiran at the Music Academy on Sunday 18 December, in the 7 p.m. slot. If the Malladi Brothers’ robust concert at 4.15 pm was a sell-out, Ravikiran’s was ‘smooth sailing,’ anchored on aesthetics.

It was a fine occasion for the connoisseurs to savour Sankaran’s ‘unhurried and traditional strokes’ on a precisely tuned mridangam for the wonderful 5-kattai pitch of the chitraveena. Ravikiran dedicated the main kriti Paramatmudu (Vagadeeswari) to the Sangita Kalanidhi designate. It was for this kriti that Sankaran as a lad of 13 years had played his maiden tani during a concert of the Alathur Brothers.

Sankaran demonstrated the Palani sampradaya throughout his solo (with K.V. Gopalakrishnan on the khanjira). The perattukai/ mohra was aesthetic. For the ‘lightning RTP’ (as described by Ravikiran) in Saveri - Sankeerna triputa also, the Professor did a wind-up mohra as a fitting finale. KVG followed devoutly on the khanjira.

If at all there was a pace-maker in the menu, it was Pavanaguru (Hamsanandi) for which Ravikiran rendered some swaras in ati tara sthayi—something he rarely does. (Perhaps I was listening to the prayoga-s for the first time). However it went down well with the audience.

The core composition (going by the ‘difficulty index’) was an Oothukadu kriti in Manji—the varnamettu of which does not extend beyond the madhya sthayi (Ravikiran does not fail to announce such specialties for the benefit of the audience if not the critics). Thank Lord Rajagopala, it was only in Adi tala but enough to explain the amount of homework necessary to internalise such kriti-s.

Listen to a song in madhyama sruti on the chitraveena and you’ll be overjoyed. ‘Sakhiprana’—the celebrated javali in Chenchuritti—was pleasant and with that Ravikiran concluded the concert.

Narkali Kalanidhi!

By Charukesi

In the Music Academy’s T.T. Krishnamachari auditorium, framed pictures of five eminent vaggaeyakaras are fixed on the left side of the stage. The entire hall is lit, including a focus light on the portrait of TTK. But there is no light on these unfortunate five men, which includes one Maharaja – Swati Tirunal. The focus light on these eminent men is not burning! They are in a dark corner.

Those who enter the newly renovated Kasturi Srinivasan Hall can be neither leftists nor rightists. They can only be centrists. Yes, anyone who enters the hall to occupy a chair has to walk in the middle and occupy a seat. None can go either to the right or to the left. The chairs are close to the wall on both sides. I have two suggestions:
  1. Remove two chairs from both the right and left ends of each row, so that rasika-s can go and occupy the seats from left, right and centre and also exit easily. The Academy will lose a few seats, but there will be less inconvenience to the audience. (Even in the re-organization of parliament or assembly constituencies, States and the Centre lose some seats. Why not the Music Academy award the architect for his ingenuity in finding more seats for the mini hall unmindful of the inconvenience caused to the audience.
  2. Provide a jumping pad for each row, as in swimming pools.   
Rasika-s can ascend the pads and jump into vacant seats, without hitting the knees of those already occupying the chairs.

Dhruva Nakshatram

By Charukesi
Biographies of musicians are rare in Tamil. The reason may be the lack of archival material on artists. Lalitha Ram, who has authored an excellent book on GNB, has now come out with a biography of mridanga maestro Palani Subramania Pillai.
N. Murali, President of the Music Academy lauded the effort of the author while releasing the first copy of the book to musicologist B.M. Sundaram, to whom it has been dedicated.
It was Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavatar who promoted Palani, a left handed mridanga vidwan, when violinists refused to change their place in the dais. Kumbakonam Rajamanikkam Pillam offered his place to Palani and sat on the right side of the vidwan, so that valanthalai of the mridanga could face the audience.
Murali recalled that Chembai offered four tani avartanams to Palani in his concert, impressed by his mridanga excellence. He quipped that the time taken by Palani for all the four tani-s then was now taken by the present day mridanga vidwans for a single tani.
Sangita Kalanidhi-designate Trichy Sankaran spoke reverentially about his guru Palani and dwelt on his honesty and integrity. His guru and Palakkad Mani Iyer had mutual respect, he added.
B.M. Sundaram, known for his forthright views, asserted that Palani was number one in his art.
Lalitha Ram acknowledged the role played by K.S. Kalidas, B.M. Sundaram and others in shaping the book and thanked the publisher Solvanam Publications, Bangalore.
Sruti Janaki was the master of ceremonies.


By Charukesi

Singapore Indian Fine Arts Society has joined hands with in showcasing the young talents of Singapore at Chennai, while giving another opportunity to our own popular vidwan-s and vidushi-s. 
Last year, when the music festival was held, there was not much of publicity and only Bhushani Kalyanaraman had a respectable audience. This year there was an unprecedented crowd at Tatvaloka Hall, when Sikkil Gurucharan, Shashank, K. Gayatri, violin duo Mysore Manjunath and Nagaraj and Malladi Brothers performed at the venue. 
Another notable event was the veena recital by Thayapari Niranjan. The quality of the recital was comparable to that of any of our own vainikas.     
The organizers reserved one slot exclusively for thevaram hymns performed by young Maiyilai Sargurunatha Odhuvar, an admirable inclusion. Set to music in Tamil isai pans, the hymns moved the listeners. In praise of Siva, they were by saints Appar, Tirugnanasambandar and Sundaramurti Nayanar. 
The Odhuvar was accompanied on the violin by Kallidaikurichi Balakrishnan, S. Yugarajan on the mridangam and S. Krishnan on the morsing. “I am planning a few concerts for these talented Odhuvars in big temples in countries like England and Canada, so that they will have no financial worries when they return here. They can concentrate on their profession in the temples here, with the remuneration they get,” said Niranjan of SIFAS and
According to Niranjan Nandhagopan, SIFAS audiences at such Tamil Isai concerts number between 500 and 1000. “In Sri Lanka too, rasika-s welcome pure Tamil isai. In England, Australia or Canada, it is the Sri Lankan Tamils who support such cultural events and attend in large numbers, both at temples and other venues.”
The music school run by SIFAS has more than 1200 students, who are enthusiastic about learning Carnatic music. On 15 December 2011, an agreement was signed between the Madras Music Academy and SIFAS to conduct workshops once in a quarter in Singapore and an MoU exchanged between N Murali, President, Music Academy and SIFAS official Chelladurai.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Dr. Dhananjayan

By S. Janaki
While awards were presented left, right and centre in various sabhas in the city, a famous dancer was conferred  the Doctor of Letters Honoris Causa at Pallavaram.
Bharatanatyam exponent and guru V.P. Dhananjayan was conferred the Honorary doctorate by Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam at the second annual convocation of VELS University on 14 December 2011, in the presence of the Vice Chancellor Prof. Dr. S. Ramachandran.
The "doctor" is now busy patiently answering congratulatory calls for adding yet another feather to his crowded cap.

Photo by Gururaj Bhat

Clicked at the Music Academy

Photos By S. Janaki

Vijay Siva

Kunnakudi Balamuralikrishna

 Sikkil Gurucharan
Malladi Brothers
Chitravina Ravikiran

Prasanna in superb touch

By Gayathri Sundaresan
Prasanna Venkataraman’s morning concert for Kartik Fine Arts was refreshing with complete fidelity to classical norms. The stage was set with the Begada varnam. Dikshitar’s Sadaachaleswaram in Bhupalam was rendered with sahitya bhavam intact, the kalpana swaram brisk without losing melody.
Sahana was another beautiful exposition, bringing out the essence of the raga with the right azhuttam-s and karvai-s. H.N. Bhaskar on the violin followed the singer’s mood and his music too flowed along with Prasanna’s. Gopalakrishna Bharati’s Tillai ambalattaanai Govindarajanai was the song, not heard often.
Kalyani was truly fantastic by any standards, by both singer and violinist. Ninnu vina gatigaana with niraval and swaram was dealt with elaborately.
A short, perfect Huseni preceded Tyagaraja’s Emani Vegintuney. Madhyamavati alapana and Paalinchu Kamakshi, the main item, began rather late. Very well sung as it was, it had to be cut short as the previous pieces had eaten into the time given. In spite of having overshot the time, Prasanna was allowed one more song and he rounded off the concert with Saravanbhava ennum in Shanmukhapriya.
The alapanas deserve special mention as they brought out the raga swaroopam, without being a compilation of phrases and pidi-s. HN Bhaskar’s support was invaluable. His karvai-s in tara shadjam and tara rishabham in Madhyamavati (and in tara gandharam in Kalyani) as Prasanna explored those areas added a telling effect.
Delhi Sairam on the mridangam and S. Krishna on the ghatam provided spirited accompaniment to kritis. They delivered a powerful tani avartanam. Young Krishna especially displayed considerable prowess and dexterity that was well appreciated by the artists and the audience. It would have been more pleasing if the volume had been kept a bit lower. Prasanna’s strong voice was well equipped to handle it, without being cowed down by the loud percussion.

The Chennai Season

First published im The Bengal Post

By V Ramnarayan

The veteran violinist on stage is a picture of composure. He coaxes the most transcendental sounds out of his ancient violin. His opening salvo stirs the soul as only a great raga at the hands of a great master can. The concert is not all about total surrender in the best bhakti mode. It offers joy and playfulness as well, when the artist moves from worshipping at the altar of an omnipresent, compassionate god to marvel at the pranks of the little blue god, playing the perennial favourite, Krishna nee begane baro. As the concert progresses, you seen realise it is a master class for aspiring musicians.

The reverie is unfortunately broken by a cellphone going off in the second row. Soon a middle-aged man is engaged in loud conversation on his cellphone. You try to give him a dirty look and shame him, but he closes his eyes and continues his conversation. Another cellphone rings two rows from you. A couple have an equally loud conversation about the concert, with the man getting a free lesson in raga-identification.

At another venue, the same evening, a young woman is playing the flute with the mastery of someone years senior to her. Ten minutes into the concert, a young man walks in and occupies a seat in the front row. Seasoned listeners can identify him as the husband of the flautist on stage. Now what does he do to encourage his wife? He stretches his legs, leans back and spreads out the afternoon issue of Kutcheri Buzz--the tabloid avidly consumed by the hordes of music lovers who throng the auditoria during the famed Chennai music season, now covering almost all of November and December.

People constantly walk in and walk out. Videographers and photographers occupy vantage positions, unmindful of the people whose views they are blocking. Children wail. Mothers run out in panic.

The Chennai Season has arrived. People, who never so much as peep into an auditorium during the rest of the year, now invade all the well known halls of Chennai. Banners and hoardings mar the aesthetics of the concerts as much as the loud and often erratic amplification. When the musicians are not asking the mikemen to increase the volume of the “feedback”–invariably taken to be a signal to raise the decibellage of the speakers aimed at the audience—the senior citizens in the front rows shout “Not audible” in a chorus.

This is the time local Carnatic music buffs as well as the NRIs who descend on Chennai every winter go from concert hall to concert hall to take in one or more of the thousands of “cutcheris” organised in a marvel of logistics and time management. Various sabhas, a ubiquitous, uniquely Tamil Nadu institution, vie with one another to bring the best of Carnatic music to the city’s audiences in a frenzy of programming. Lecture demonstrations and concerts are held throughout the day, starting as early as 7.30 a.m. and ending around 10 p.m. for two weeks. Because each sabha starts its festival on a different date, the whole frenetic schedule nowadays stretches to a couple of months.

Kitchens are closed at countless homes, as there’s no time to cook and clean or even stop over between concerts. Delicious ‘tiffin’ and aromatic ‘full meals’ in the temporary eateries specially put up for the season draw rasikas from all parts of the city, but those who are there for the food alone and not the music far outnumber the music-lovers.

The unique atmosphere of the season has to be seen to be believed. All the great and aspiring artists of Carnatic music perform at different venues. Many of them overdo it, accepting literally every invitation to perform for fear of offending the sabha secretaries, their lifeline to a successful career in music. This season, some of the stars have decided to limit their appearances in order to preserve their voices (or instruments) and retain the freshness of their music. (One hugely popular star has gone on record saying she is really taking it easy, she is only doing 15 concerts during the season)!

Every newspaper brings out special supplements on the season. Some TV channels even conduct their own festivals. Critics damn or praise the musicians, but today’s musicians are often well educated and extremely tech-savvy, perfectly capable of striking back at the pen pushers.

“Carnatic music is alive and well”, seems to be the verdict of most critics, but old timers predictably lament the inability of today’s practitioners to equal the class of the stalwarts of the past.

Among the musicians themselves, opinions vary as to the state of Carnatic music today. Some say, ‘Those were the days when the rasika-s were really serious about attending season concerts and it was not just a fad. Today, we miss the serious rasika.’

Others say, “The audience is more demanding now. It inspires us through the year to do well, give of our best.”

Everyone who has ever been a part of the Chennai Season will however agree on one thing: There is nothing in the national music calendar to beat it for sheer excitement. 

Kolaverifying VVIPs at sabhas

By Veejay Sai

Cartoon By Sandhya Prabhat
As Sugriva was bellowing his lungs out challenging Vali to a duel, just after his fire-sworn friendship with Rama in the Kishkinda Kandam, a packed hall sat in rapt attention watching Anita Guha’s choreography of the Ramayana at Sri Krishna Gana Sabha. Suddenly the main door opened and in ran a man between the first and second rows from one end of the hall to the other. The audience wondered if it was a part of the show to have entries and exits from all the doors of KGS, but the man ran back and forth twice over, scouting for an empty chair. In the process, he didn’t spare my neighbour’s toes. Not finding an empty seat, he ran across the row again, finally got hold of a plastic chair and plonked it right in the middle of row one. (Who cares if audiences are disturbed?)

Amidst a disturbing commotion at the entrance of the main door near the first row entered a great dancer, scholar, and celebrity. The man who ran around till then was her agent trying to get her a vacant seat in row one, never mind if she breezed in a good half an hour after the performance started.

The sabha secretary and other officers stood helplessly watching this spectacle as the VVIP sashayed her way to the empty chair. Not only disturbing those seated, but with apparent disrespect for the performers on stage, she walked in greeting her friends along the way. Now there are always those oddballs in the audience who love to socialize in the middle of a concert. These people are worse than those who answer their phones.

Our VVIPs can learn a lesson or two from the well-behaved monkeys from the Kishkinda Kandam.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Janardan Mitta and Ravi Shankar

(From the pages of Sruti)
By V Ramnarayan
Janardan Mitta, whom Ravi Shankar once described as “my favourite student”, was born into a musically inclined family. His father Mitta Lakshminarasiah, was a leading lawyer of Hyderabad. Keen on music, the senior Mitta would come home on Thursdays (Friday was a holiday in the Nizam’s Hyderabad) and close his office for the weekend, to play the tabla or the harmonium and sing with his wife and six children for an audience. “Vakil sahib’s” home was the gateway to the twin cities for most visiting musicians.
Janardan, who joined the film industry in Madras back in 1956 and became a permanent fixture as a sitarist in films made here for over four decades, picked up his sister’s sitar once she left home after marriage. By 1952, he had successfully auditioned before stalwarts Pandit Ratanjankar and Veerendra Kishore and started playing for Deccan Radio. He first heard Ravi Shankar live in 1955, when he came to Hyderabad for a Sangeet Sammelan concert. Janardan had completed his M.A. and was now doing his second year in engineering, but was dying to take up music full time. His father said he had six sons and so didn’t mind one of them taking to music. He took Janardan to meet Ravi Shankar. “Are you crazy?” was Ravi Shankar’s response when Lakshminarasiah said he would take Janardan out of engineering college if Ravi Shankar would take him as a disciple.
Ravi Shankar came to Hyderabad again in 1956, and this time he did listen to the young sitarist. He said, “You seem to know some of the advanced things without knowing the basics.” He appreciated the way Janardan played the raga, the taan and the meend, but corrected a basic mistake he was making in the number of front and back strokes. “That’s why I need a guruji,” the young man shot back in all innocence. Ravi Shankar asked him to apply for a government scholarship, but though he did not get it, Janardan still went to Delhi in 1956 to learn from Ravi Shankar. It was a busy year for Ravi Shankar. He had just quit the AIR job and become a full time musician. That year he travelled to Afghanistan for the first time on a concert tour. “Whenever he found time to teach us in the midst of his travels, he opened a treasure box,” Janardan remembers.
Janardan was one of the students to take part in the annual camp in Benares. Kartik Kumar, Shamim Ahmed, Rama Rao and Arun Bharat Ram were some of the others. At the classes, Ravi Shankar was a strict disciplinarian. “He was never satisfied until you got every nuance right,” he said. “Outside the classroom, he was a friend, mixing freely with everyone. At Benares, we always had lunch with him. ‘Today, we have an apology for sambar,’ he would apologise. In the evening, we were free to go where we chose, but sometimes he would accompany us on outings, taking a childlike pleasure in simple things. He took us on boat rides to watch the sunset, even liked to go to movies. Once after a concert in Chennai, he said, ‘Let’s go to Bobby’, referring to the Hindi superhit film of the 1970s.
“Guruji had been trained in the tough school of Ustad Alauddin Khan. He taught him dhrupad, the surbahar, complicated tala-s. It was Guruji who reintroduced the complex laya techniques of Carnatic music like tisra nadai and khanda nadai to Hindustani music, which had lost them over time. Even last year, he played a composition set to a tala of 10.5 beats at a Hyderabad concert. Every Sunday for a whole year, he presented a programme of ‘aparichit’ or new raga-s, 52 different raga-s.”

Janardan has the greatest respect for Ravi Shankar’s intellect. “For instance, Guruji had an original explanation for the relative simplicity of laya in Hindustani music. In the north, we sang for the king, while musicians sang for God in the south. At the temple, they sang without inhibition, exploring the entire range of raga and tala, with no fear of displeasing their compassionate God. But in the durbar, you did not dare to go beyond teen taal for fear of offending the king who would not then know how to keep the beat along with you.”

Ravi Shankar’s regard for Carnatic music and musicians is well known. “He still keeps track of what’s happening here,” says Janardan. “He keenly watches the careers of young musicians like T.M. Krishna, Vijay Siva and Sanjay Subrahmanyan.”

Good harvest

By Ragz

It’s been a good harvest of music so far.

The chill in the air sends one rushing to grab a steaming cup of filter coffee, hurriedly turning the pages of the newspaper.  The expert eyes catch the day’s  key happenings in a jiffy.  The Music Mela 2011 has started with a bang and it’s been a good harvest for me so far with a preliminary round of Neyveli Santhanagopalan (accompanied by Nagai Muralidharan on the violin and Dr Trichy Sankaran on the mridanga), Pappu Venugopala Rao with a sweet demo on Annamaiya’s great works, supported by the twins Aarthi and Archana, both students of R Vedavalli, Geetha Bennet with her lilting melodies on the veena, Prema Rengarajan rendering ancient numbers with ease, dance ballet and thematic presentations by artistes like Parvathi Ravi Ghantasala, Chitra Visweswaran, and Anita Guha, and Sailaja from the UK with her fusion of bharatanatyam with kathak. 

The warming up for the Season has certainly been on a brisk note and as it appears now, it’s going to be yet another great harvest for the music lovers in Margazhi.  Lets keep our ears wide open.

Audience, mind your manners!

By Ragz

The music goes on and so do the rasikas with their usual auditorium etiquette.   The curtains go up at 6pm and we see rasikas trickling in indifferently well past the middle of the concert, unmindful of obstructing others’ vision, taking their own sweet time to settle down, making a continuous racket even after settling down, only to sink into the comfort of the air conditioned hall and start gossiping.   The age-old tradition of tani avartanam is fortunately still in vogue, but our rasikas adamantly continue their legacy of walking out mercilessly right at the start of the tani. 
During Bharatanatyam concerts, the kith and kin of the performers keen to be seen, keep pacing up and down everywhere talking on their mobile in high decibels. The audience claps at all the wrong times, while showing nil appreciation at all the right times, makes an indecent dash towards the cafeteria in between two concerts, frequently walks across the stage before the curtain and a lot more.

Monday, 19 December 2011

The Stalls upstairs

By BuzyBee
“Chennai gaga over Raga!” is the statement on T-shirts, coasters, mugs and magnets. Its buzzing upstairs! Apart from the queue winding its way into the hall, the main foyer on the ground floor at the Music Academy wears quite a deserted look as most of the interesting stalls have been allotted space upstairs.
Sruti magazine, Chennai gaga, and Karnatic Music Book Centre rub shoulders with one another and make an interesting corner for you to browse through pages on artists and matters musical. Stop and buy! A few steps away Amudham, Radel, Carnatica and Swathi display their varied fare.
Tradition and innovation go hand in hand in artistic tukkadas offstage — T-shirts sporting the music trinity, dance gestures, and messages like “Love Chennai… no strings attached” (with a violin), and “Nothing beats Chennai’ (with a mridanga)  are on display.

Tears of nostalgia

(Lec-dems at the Music Academy on 17 December)

By V Ramnarayan

Deepak Raja’s was not only an erudite presentation on the topic of compound ragas in Hindustani music, it was also an emotive one, with the clips he played from past greats like Amir Khan, Vilayat Khan, and Hirabai Barodekar taking us back to a bygone era of timeless exploration of raga music. Within a short span of time, he took us through the nuances of such compound ragas as Basant Bahar, Jog-Kauns, and Kausi Kanada. To my technically untrained ear, the beauty and power of the parent ragas as well as their offspring were more relevant than the science behind their formation. A stalwart contributor to Sruti, Deepak Raja repeatedly marvelled at the high degree of awareness of the Chennai audience and its willingness to bestir itself to attend learned lectures at 8 am.  While he showed great poise in his elucidation of the nuances of the ragas, he became overcome with emotion while listening to a recording he played of Barodekar. “This exquisite recording brings tears to my eyes everytime I listen to it,” he said.

He was also hugely impressed by the high level of attainment of the galaxy of musicians/ musicologists who had gathered at the Music Academy to listen to him. He also got a taste of the rare pleasure of listening to comments by members of the expert committee, when Prof. TR Subramaniam rose to repeat Ravikiran’s comments, apparently not having heard the Chitravina maestro. (Ravikiran cited the example of the raga Ghanta as a compound of numerous ragas like Todi, Dhanyasi and so on, responding to Deepak Raja’s question whether compounds of more than 4 or 5 ragas could hold their own as independent entities).

TRS also repeated a delightful anecdote he related last year after S Sowmya’s lec-dem on the raga Ghanta.  According to the story, TRS’s coursemate at the Music College, Ramnad Krishnan once said that Ghanta was nothing but Dhanyasi sung imperfectly. To TRS’s query on how to sing Dhanyasi wrongly, Krishnan gave a tongue-in-cheek reply again: “Is it difficult for us musicians to get a raga wrong?”

Octogenarian TN Krishnan took his time to warm up during the lec-dem that followed. He dismissed his childhood ability to effortlessly repeat on the violin anything his father-guru Narayana Iyer or other musicians threw at him, as of no great consequence, repeatedly stressing his lifelong quest for musical knowledge and perfection. “I used to reproduce the Bhairavi varnam effortlessly when I was barely 4, but I am still unravelling it in all its dimensions.”

Krishnan also attributed all his accomplishments as a musician to what he imbibed from great masters of the past like Ariyakudi, GNB and Semmangudi. Sure enough, his superb rendition of their varied singing styles and his own accompaniment to them brought tears of nostalgia to the audience.

Pantula Rama and friends

By MV Swaroop

There is a certain dignity about Pantula Rama - her sarees and jewellery are always easy on the eye, there are hardly any facial contortions when she sings, and the controlled ease with which her music flows hides its virtuosity. Take the Kuntalavarali raga alapana she sang yesterday at Mudhra, for instance. The raga is rarely elaborated, but she showed that by according the same respect you would a Todi or a Sankarabharanam, you could coax a startling variety of sangati-s from it.

A friend who came for the concert with me asked, "She sings so well, and the hall is only half-full?"

When a musician approaches a kriti with fifteen charana-s sung in the same tune, two temptations can show up - first, to omit some charana-s and sing, say, only five or six; and the second, to decorate each charana with an avalanche of ornate sangati-s. Rama's student, Ranjani Sivakumar, at the hard-to-locate Karpagam Gardens Vinayaka Temple, avoided both temptations. She sang all the charana-s of Tyagaraja's Rama Rama in Huseni, and she sang all of them with measured minimalism - one of two flourishes, a small touch here, a teasing variation there, a pause, a line of silence - letting Tyagaraja's lyrics, their anguished devotion and swaying rhyme, take centre stage. Nothing flashy, nothing flamboyant. The effect was mesmerising.

Vijay Siva, at Vani Mahal, paused for a few seconds after the tani avartanam, and sang two phrases dripping Khamas. They were so obviously Khamas that the hall was filled with an air of joyful recognition. No need to take out our little raga books, the audience seemed to say.

But the mama and mami behind me were slightly off the pulse.
"Kapi!" the mama declared.
Kadavule, how!? I thought.
"Che, che," the mami said, "This is not Kapi."
Thank Heavens, the right answer is...
"This is Sindhubhairavi," the mami said, rather unsurely.
Oh, come on mami. You can do better than that, surely.

The mama vehemently disagreed and proceeded to demonstrate Sindhubhairavi for the mami. He sang just like Ariyakudi. If Ariyakudi were alive today, and 111 years old, and still singing.

The mami declared, "See! There's no connection between this and Sindhubhairavi!" After a moment's contemplation, "This must be Behag," she said.

The mama hummed Adum Chidambaramo, and said, "Hmmmm. But Behag also sounds slightly different. Yamankalyani-yo?" They launched into a tour-de-force of Yamankalyani in a sruti alien to Vijay Siva's.

Vijay Siva, at this point, was reeling off sangati after sangati, but I could hear only this couple's alleged Yamankalyani in my ear.
I had enough. I turned around and said, "Mama, this is Khamas." I turned back, pleased with myself, to Embar Kannan's reply.

The mami said, after careful consideration, "The boy is right. This is Khamas." And started off again, "O chaturaananaadi vandita..."

A famous thinker, I can't remember who, said that intellectuals are the most sorry lot, because they cannot enjoy anything without thinking about it. My Carnatic training perhaps comes in the way of my enjoying music as music. When someone asks me why I liked a particular rendition, my answer is usually shrouded in swara-s and phrases and tadiginatom-s. So, when the editor of this blog told me to tone rhapsodising on the nishada-s and sangati-s, I found myself unable to write reviews.

I cannot help it - the technical side of music, for me, is not divorced from my enjoyment of it. And when I sit down to write about Pantula Rama's Chintamani swaraprastara, my mind says, "I loved the fact that she descended four different times in four different ways, and each of them was still Chintamani and nothing else. I loved the fact that she didn't feel the need to sing a second kalam at all, and what a first kalam that was!"

Jim Emerson, the film critic, recently wrote (

"One wants very much to talk about what makes Tolstoy uniquely Tolstoy and Renoir uniquely Renoir -- and that's their technique, their vision -- not just their stories or their themes. You can't "distinguish form and content for the purposes of analysis," because (as we all know) the form is the content, and what the artist has done is how the artist did it. You can't perceive the whole without taking notice of the specifics, any more than you can absorb a novel without reading the words or see a movie without looking at the images."

Dear Swaroop,
The fact I published this, including Jim Emerson’s views, does not mean I agree with you. - Editor.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Taking heritage to the young

By Sarvalaghu

SPIC MACAY, in the words of Ramachandra Guha, has a wordy name embodying a weighty ambition. It stands for Society for Promotion of Indian Classical Music and Culture amongst Youth. It has touched the lives of at least two generations of students in our schools and colleges. Whether it has achieved its ambition to any significant degree is another matter. Its founder Kiran Seth is not very upbeat on this and has been quoted saying:  “We are fighting a losing battle, but we cannot give up”.

Kiran Seth, an alumnus of IIT Delhi who later taught there, founded it in 1977. He was spurred on to this mission by his shocking discovery on foreign shores of the grandeur and beauty of Indian classical music--shocking because he would have remained unaware of this but for a chance and casual “dropping by” at a dhrupad concert on an evening with nothing else to do.

Deciding to work toward exposing the young of India to the best in our classical music and other aspects of Indian culture, he founded SPIC MACAY. It is in schools and colleges that young people are a captive audience and so SPIC MACAY’s chapters were opened in various schools and colleges and universities across India. SPIC MACAY seeks to expose school and college students to the richness of the Indian heritage by getting topnotch performers to interact with them through performances, talks, workshops and seminars.

It is run by volunteers, especially student volunteers, who take care of the various aspects of the logistics of having the country’s top performers perform such as booking the artistes, arranging for the funding, travel arrangements, hospitality, publicity, stage arrangements, sound and press. For some reason the Tamil Nadu chapter did not have a steady feed of such volunteers and for a good three and a half years, in the words of Dr. Bhaskar Ramamurthy, Director, IITM,“SPIC MACAY has been conspicuous by its absence”. Just recently however, the Tamil Nadu chapter of SPIC MACAY came back with a bang. Santoor maestro Shivkumar Sharma with Ramkumar Mishra on the tabla, engaged a young, bubbly crowd in the large Student’s Activity Centre at IIT Madras.

The santoor is synonymous with this man and when we hear him play it we know why.  When we hear anyone else play it we suspect that it might possibly remain so since nobody comes anywhere near his virtuosity. Vachaspati was the raga of the evening and this was followed by Misra Pahadi. Shivkumar Sharma is highly regarded not only for his virtuosity over the instrument but also his adherence to raga grammar. He is also a highly cultured man from all accounts. “Please don’t take offence at my stopping you from applauding in the middle of my exposition. I just think that when I am performing alap, applause in the middle is disruptive and defeats the purpose, which is to attain an inwardness.  Sure, when I am playing taans or the drut piece, if you cannot control your excitement, you may clap.”

The question that comes to the mind is why after a deep, meditative alap do we have a quickening of the exposition through jod-jhala and finally the sometimes noisy gat rendition with its tihais and sawal jawabs?

Sharma spoke about raga alap as meditative and capable of evoking a mood. I determinedly let go my trained ear and mind (which would unstoppably spell the notes that are being played) to just let the music soak in, to feel the mood – it was a happy mood, maybe gentle rains and a contented evening.  I asked a young school girl sitting next to me – what mood did it evoke-happy or sad? Happy, she said, happily. Some adults I asked frowned at my question and said they did not feel anything specific. “For me, Vachaspati means Paratpara sung by DKP” guffawed Dr. Bhaskar Ramamurthy when I asked him.

So what is this with raga-s and moods? All musicians claim that ragas evoke moods; in fact, the word raga means colour and emotion. There have been surveys and experiments conducted to determine whether there is any element of objectivity in such associations. Not surprisingly, the results are inconclusive.

The Tamil Nadu chapter seems to have gained fresh impetus from the determined efforts of volunteers like Chinmaya Arjun Raja (Alliance Francais), Milind Brahme (IITM), Sruti’s own Sadhana Rao and others. SPIC MACAY has lined up quite a few events under the VIRASAT (literally legacy, heritage) series for this year. Shubha Mudgal, Jayanthi Kumaresh, T.V. Sankaranarayanan, the Dhananjayans, Shashank, T.N. Krishnan, Priyadarsini Govind, Bombay Jayashri as well as the Norwegian Jazz trio and the Rajasthani Manganiyars are to perform at various educational institutions.

We may not lose the battle, Mr. Seth. What is at stake is too beautiful.

Mehendi – Sangeet

By Gayathri Sundaresan
Bang in the middle of the Season, I happened upon an enjoyable short programme, slightly different from a regular concert. At the ‘mehendi-sangeet’ ceremony preceding the wedding of a friend’s daughter, a small stage was put up in the corner of a tastefully decorated garden of the bungalow. VVS Manian’s Konnakol show, accompanied by Nellai Balaji on the mridangam and H. Sivaramakrishnan on the ghatam took us on a gala tala trip. Tirukkural and Avvaiyar’s Aathi Choodi provided variety in nadai and talam to add value as well as pep to the presentation.
Manian teaches at PSBB schools, and with the help of Mrs YGP, has been taking his show to many other schools. Manian aims to revive the art form by impressing upon young minds the infinite variety that our classical art offers.
A solo Bharatanatyam presentation of Meenakshi Kalyanam followed. Vidya Deepak, dressed in a simple sari, with minimal make up and accessories, mimed to the poetry written by her father Ramanathan, recited by her sister Kalyani Venkatesh. She beautifully brought out all the nuances in her facial abhinaya and light body movements – commanding everyone’s attention in its directness and simplicity.
An evening well spent, savouring beautiful art away from the mainstream.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Winner – Spirit of Youth

By S. Janaki

A twiggy teenager has now blossomed into a confident young dancer and gone on to win the first prize in the Spirit of Youth series 2011 of the Music Academy. Not a surprise, coz Sumithra is the daughter and disciple of well known Bharatanatyam dancer and teacher Jayanthi Subramaniam in Chennai.
Sumithra seems to revel in rakshasi roles this season – playing Soorpanakha (in Aranya Kandam choreographed by Jayanthi) and Lankini (in Anitha Guha’s Parishvanga Pattabhishekam) with aplomb. Her abhinaya and sense of timing add a pep to her roles.

A Fine Arts graduate she also designs brochures and backdrops for artists.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Monkeys steal the show

By BuzyBee

Monkeys stole the show at the Gnanananda Hall some days ago – not on the trees outside the hall but on the stage. It was no laughing matter but a serious fight between Vali and Sugreeva performed by Thiruchelvam and Madhusudanan that won thunderous applause. It was a show-stealing scene choreographed by the boys. An added punch which had the audience in splits came from the compere Revathy Sankkaran who introduced the segment with her earthy statement: “This kolaveri was there even then!”
True to Anitha Guha’s style ‘Parishvanga Pattabhishekam’ (combining the Kishkinda and Sundara kandams of the Ramayana) was colourful, entertaining, with the dancers turned out in elaborate costumes, and a lot of drama added to the dance. The young dancers had fun doing the roles of monkeys, rakshasis and narrators, while dancers like Janaki Rangarajan (a dignified Rama), Pavitra Bhatt (a handsome Ravana), and Aishwarya Narayanaswamy (double role of Lakshmana and Seeta), handled their roles with √©lan.

Hanuman, the real hero of the two segments was portrayed admirably by Saathvika Shankar – a character combining reverence, valour and mischief (in Lanka).

Anitha is presenting this dance-drama in nine venues with a “changing” cast.

He touched a chord with his sitar

By Ganesh V

Pandit Janardan Mitta’s sitar recital at Arkay Convention Centre was exquisite, and touched a chord deep down.

The spotlights bathed the performing area in a warm, rich glow. The burnished metal of the sitar and the tanpura gleamed. The tabla sat majestically on the stage, waiting to do its bit. The sound of the sitar being tuned was in contrast to the hush that otherwise prevailed in the room. The audience sat in a mellow silence, waiting for the concert to begin.

Pandit Janardan Mitta was a picture of stately sophistication. Seated on a small raised platform, he prefaced his recital with a few remarks. Given that there were very few people in the audience (I counted about 16 heads), he said it would be more like a mehfil (a private chamber concert, so to speak). He hoped that this atmosphere would lead the audience to a better bonding and appreciation of the music. I was soon to know how prescient Panditji was!

He chose Purya Kalyan as the main raag for the evening. His half hour exploration of the raag started at a slow tempo and steadily built up pace. He followed the classic Hindustani pattern of alap, jod and jhala. Purya Kalyan is the Hindustani equivalent of the Carnatic raga Poorvi Kalyani. It being an evening raag, the choice seemed perfect. Panditji’s exploration of the raag was deeply introspective and extremely melodious. At times, he would look straight into the eyes of the audience as he played. At other times, he would close his eyes and let his head fall back an inch. At such moments, I felt he was playing for none but himself and the Divine. The soothing music indeed applied itself on my mind like a balm. For the next hour and a half, I lost myself in the notes originating from the sitar.

A short aside. As the rich tapestry of raag Purya Kalyan unfolded from Panditji’s sitar, I was time and again reminded of a song from the Hindi film Badaltey Rishtey. Released in 1978, the film had Lata and Mahendra Kapoor lending their voices to the song “meri saanson ko jo mehka rahi hai”, which is based on raag Purya Kalyan. Composers Laxmikant-Pyarelal have harnessed the beauty of this raag extremely well in this song. A song very close to my heart.

After the first piece, Panditji played a light dhun in a medley of raags. He then moved on to the concluding piece, set in Malkauns (Hindolam). In fact, he played this more as Hindolam rather than Malkauns. Throughout the recital, the audience responded with warmth and appreciation. It was clear that everyone present was savouring every moment of it.

The tabalchi for the evening (J Payanadaphe; he is new to me) was extremely competent and followed Panditji as faithfully as a shadow. Without attempting to drown out the sitar with his drumbeats, he laid a strong foundation which served to elevate and highlight the sitar’s notes. Given more concert opportunities, I am sure he will blossom into a topnotch musician.

I was gratified to see that Panditji fell back on a traditional tanpura for the recital (though the electronic avatar could also be seen perched on the stage; I wonder why). In the four concerts I have attended so far this season, this is the first time I saw a traditional tanpura being used. A commentary on our ‘electronic’ era, perhaps? This trend calls for deeper probing and a separate story. 

Born at Hyderabad, Telugu speaking Janardan Mitta spent many years there, before he moved to Chennai where he has been a prolific sitarist in films. Initially self-taught, he then came under the tutelage of Pandit Ravi Shankar. A regal performer at all times, he is known for the honesty of his music and not for showmanship. It is a pity he doesn’t find larger audiences in India. A few years ago, I attended another beautiful concert of his in the mini hall of Narada Gana Sabha. Then too, he played for just a score of people or so.

The fact that many talented musicians like him cheerfully play to tiny audiences speaks volumes of their humility and love for music. May his tribe grow!

Thank you Panditji, for a wonderful evening. Thank you for soothing our souls with some balm.