Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Heralding the 21st century

By Gowri and V Ramnarayan

1 January 2000. The Music Academy hall at Chennai reverberated with the collective rendering of Maitrim bhajata by 500 children. They were following the first line of the Kanchi Sankaracharya’s prayer for universal brotherhood in the recorded voice of MS Subbulakshmi.

YACM (Youth Association for Classical Music) had pulled off a remarkable feat—in conceiving a celebration of Carnatic music on an impressive scale and working together as a tireless team to ring in the new millennium at the stroke of midnight at the Music Academy, Chennai.

Part of their plan had been to get MS Subbulakshmi to be present at the Academy while the children’s chorus was in progress. What a proud moment it would have been for the kids! Unfortunately, MS had stopped taking part in public events and concerts after her husband T Sadasivam had passed away a few years earlier. (The normally mild-mannered violinist RK Shriram Kumar remembers to this day the rare occasion when he picked up the phone during a rehearsal and bellowed at KR Athmanathan, her foster son: “I know she won’t come here for the millennium concert, and I don’t care how you do it, but you’d better get MS Amma here today to encourage the children,” so moved had he been by their commitment. “Their expressions when they saw her at the rehearsal were priceless.”)

Most of the young musicians of the YACM team were already frontline performers on the concert circuit. If there were doubts in the minds of their audiences about their commitment to a cause or their respect for tradition and their musical forefathers, they were dispelled by this splendid act of selfless cooperation.

The millennium concert began at 9-45 p.m. and ended well after midnight. Compere Sudha Ragunathan announced that the show would take the audience through the last hundred years of a classical system that was over two thousand years old. She proceeded to introduce the likes of Sanjay Subrahmanyan, S. Sowmya, Ravi Kiran, Veenai Jayanthi, Vijay Siva, Bombay Jayashri, Neyveli Santhanagopalan and others. Each of these stars of the day paid rich tributes to the giants of the past.

It was a moving moment in the history of Carnatic music. The visible respect for the past and devotion to their art of the speakers were well supported by visuals and audio. Anand Siva, a cousin of Vijay Siva and former president of YACM, put the whole multimedia presentation together.

Some of the greatest veterans of Carnatic music who were still among us then gave some samples of their magic. 92-year old Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer received a thunderous ovation when he rendered Tyagaraja's `Nada tanumanisam'. A most unexpected combination in D. K. Pattammal and K. V. Narayanaswami, then sang  two kritis together. An even more unusual pair was of T. N. Seshagopalan and N. Ramani, accompanied by M. Chandrasekharan and Guruvayur Dorai. The team rendered a piece specially composed to welcome the new millennium,  Suswagata.

Karaikudi Mani and Vellore Ramabhadran entertained listeners with a pallavi line that was a play on their names. Violinists M. S. Gopalakrishnan and V. V. Subramaniam came together with veteran T. K. Murthy just before midnight.

In a tribute to the vadya vrinda orchestral music of All India Radio, a whole range of musicians playing instruments from violin to jalatarangam thronged the dais to perform a a composition by Lalgudi Jayaraman, with the maestro himself conducting the orchestra. 

The contributions of other institutions like Annamalai University, the first academic institution to offer a course in Carnatic music, and the Music Academy, were also duly acknowledged.

It was also an occasion to remember the roles played in promoting Carnatic music by Prof. Sambamoorthy, Swadesamitran, The Hindu,  Kalki Krishnamurthy, and Sruti magazine.

There was humour as well in the form of a skit by S. V. Shekher, Revathi Sankaran and ghatam S. Karthik. Followed a magnificent ``Mamava Pattabhirama'' in Manirangu by the musicians numbering over 70 who had joined hands to organise the show.

The curtains on the grand show came down with a mallari by a procession of twin nagaswarams and tavils.

The huge show was not without its faults, but it was all forgiven in the general spirit of celebrating Carnatic music that the wonderful team of young musicians had created in an unprecedented manner. Their homage was a sincere reminder of the guru-sishya bonds that “charge it with life, power, organic continuity and dynamism.”

The new millennium did indeed start on a note of optimism based on the combination of love of tradition and ability to innovate that the young organisers so fearlessly exhibited that night.

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