A Musical Fornight in Chennai

The Chennai music festival is unique – probably only one of its kind in the world. I am not aware of any city which can boast of musical mornings / evenings / afternoons / nights,which are conducted in as many as 15 odd halls /’sabhas’ . I am almost certain there are no parallels in terms of sheer number of concerts per day(on an average 40 concerts in a day,if one counts all halls?).
My Chennai trip came about by default,thanks to US consulate in Mumbai who kept my visa application in pending status. The moment it happened,I quickly changed my plans and landed in Chennai in time for the season.
As usual,there were quite a few innovations made during the season. The following are noteworthy:
Some musicians,during alaap of a main raga,effortlessly switched over to another raga. For instance Bombay Jayashree made a smooth and seamless transition from Ranjani to Bindumalini to priyadarshini – back & forth effortlessly. While this is a technical feat by itself,the overall effect in terms of music and melody is also immense. To my pleasant surprise one of the budding artists( Saketharaman) also attempted this technique successfully with poise. He transited back & forth with the ragas Nalinakanti & Bindumalini.
In another innovation,Ravikiran(of ‘vichitra veena’ fame) presented a fusion of sorts along with an orchestra consisting of violin,key board,guitar(played by a Brazillian),ghatam,mridangam,kanjira etc.. It was an impressive blend of classical with contemporary music. I liked it probably because there was less of contemporary and more of classical.

In an interesting duet(I didn’t attend this one),TN Seshagopalan on vocal was supported by Mandolin Srinivas on string and the event was projected as SESHU &SRINI CONCERT.
There was yet another interesting event which was presented as STHREE THYAGARAJA ARADHANA. This is an all-woman concert wherein 60 women presented together on vocal,and a variety of instruments.
There were also a couple of interesting LEC-DEMS(Short form for lecture demonstration).There were animated discussions on what is popularly known as MANODHARMA SANGEETAM. Manodharma is a unique expression which means in simple terms innovation or creativity within certain well defined bounds. Carnatic music offers excellent scope for innovation whether it is rag alap or,Neraval or swara kalpana. But at the same time one is expected to adhere to tradition. Manodharma in Carnatic music is so vital that it is not an exaggeration to say that the the music is entirely sustained by it. As Ravi Kiran ,one of the panel members put it,when melody,rhythm,& lyrics merge,one can create silence out of music.

S.R.Janakiraman’s lec-dem on classification of Thyagaraja kirtanas in terms of various themes was very fascinating. His passion for music and thirst for knowledge even at the age of 82 is amazing.

I attended another interesting lec-dem by Nedunuri on Ragaa and its scope. During the discussion,Nedunuri mentioned that without ‘swara jnana’,one can never sing a raga. One well known musicologist who was present during the discussion,while agreeing with the statement, added that there are always great exceptions to this rule. And he narrated a funny incident to illustrate his point. In the good old days,there was one very famous drama actor by name KITTAPPA who was also a highly gifted singer. His Rag alap was so astounding that even well known musicians of that time would flock to theatre whenever Kittappa presented a drama interspersed with good music. During one such drama,Kittappa made one amazing rendering of a raag alap which drew spontaneous applause from the audience. The story goes that Kittappa soon went into the GREEN ROOM and asked one of his close friends: “Pachaa- do me a favour- there was such a roaring applause to my rendering of a raga – please tell me what raaga it is that I presented”. The point that is being made here is that Jnana(of swara etc) is not a prerequisite to a musical genius who is born with the gift.

Among the established artists whose performances I liked are: Bombay Jayashree,Sanjay Subramanyam & TM Krishna – in that order.
Among the upcoming artists,the following names are worth watching in the future:
Saketha Raman,Kunnakudi Balamuralikrishna,Rithwik Raja,Vikram Raghavan(the last two are disciples of TM Krishna),and Sandeep Narayan(Sanjay Subramanyam’s disciple).

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Published in: on January 8, 2011 at 5:57 pm  Leave a Comment  
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