Monday, 16 July 2012

A star is born

By V Ramnarayan

(Edited excerpts from a Seshagopalan profile in Sruti issue 3)

Seshagopalan’s first concert at Madras was at the Srinivasa Sastri Hall in Mylapore under the auspices of Rasikapriya, a sabha run by Lokanathan of RBI.

“I was nineteen then. Narasimhamurthy (violin) and Karaikudi Mani (mridangam - not yet so famous!) accompanied me. The Hindu critic congratulated me personally. So did P.S. Narayanaswami, R.S. Mani; V.R. Krishnan, and Tiruvengadu Subramaniam, even that redoubtable lady T. Brinda. Lalgudi Jayaraman was another who predicted a bright future for me. I was getting into the habit of observing my audience and their reaction closely. I found a distinct difference in standards between Madras and Madurai audiences. The former were practised listeners, with opportunities to listen to concerts. In contrast, non-metropolitan audiences did not get to listen to more than one concert a month. But regardless of their level of appreciation, I learned to follow their comments and hushed conversations, size up their requirements and tailor my concerts accordingly.

“This ability is an essential part of a musician’s armoury. Around this time Ramanathapuram Ganesa Pillai, Mylattur Ramachandran, Tinniyur Krishnan and Papanasam Balasaraswati were my better known accompanists.

“A concert in Coimbatore during the Ramanavami festival gave me well-needed self-assurance. I was now very confident of a successful future. But the major breakthrough was yet to come. I had to wait till 1969-70 when I received a letter from Sri Yagnaraman, secretary of Krishna Gana Sabha, inviting me to perform at a concert organised by the Federation of Sabhas to the accompaniment of Lalgudi Jayaraman and Umayalpuram Sivaraman. With some two months to go before this performance I practised in right earnest. I sang at the Tiruvaiyaru festival; I was given the time when the news would be broadcast over the radio. No one else wanted this spot as there would be no radio braodcast of the performance.

This concert had a snowballing effect on the improvement of TNS’s status as a musician, thanks to the fact that Lalgudi and Sivaraman accompanied him. T.N. Krishnan was another violinist who began to be associated with the young musician. The press was greatly impressed and epithets such as ‘genius’ were frequently used to describe Seshagopalan.

In 1974, Seshagopalan took the capital city by storm. Delhi’s critics expressed surprise and amazement that such a major talent had not surfaced there earlier. Bombay and Calcutta followed suit featuring TNS in various festivals.

Seshagopalan is of the firm opinion that his ascent was hastened by a good four or five years by the boost he received from being accompanied by Krishnan, Lalgudi and Sivaraman.

“Another important landmark in my career was my performance at Sastri Hall on behalf of Sri Kulathu of Viveka Cultural Centre. Here it was that Palghat Mani Iyer honoured me by accompanying me, alongside of Lalgudi. There was a big crowd. I sang a four-kalai pallavi, against the advice of Mani Iyer. He was an advocate of moderation and is even credited with the remark that tanis should be no longer than five minutes. I am sure he didn’t impose any such restrictions on himself when he was young. There are stories about hour-long solo percussion he perpetrated.

“Lalgudi and Cheema (C.R. Srinivasan) were, I think, instrumental in bringing about this concert, which helped considerably in adding to my reputation. Mani Iyer accompanied me in two more concerts including one of chamber music organised by the sabha Alapana.

Seshagopalan regarded as his friend, mentor, adviser and benefactor the late P.R. Chari, who lived in Bombay until his retirement in 1974 from Philips and then moved to Madras. He was a great source of moral support. As an adviser to Polydor India, he it was who arranged for Seshagopalan’s first discs to be cut by them. The two-disc set was recorded during a speically arranged live concert at TNS’s insistence. Chari passed away in 1983.

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