Aren’t We Too Judgmental?

Yes, indeed! If any proof were needed, one just has to go around the various concert halls in Chennai during the December Music Festival. For the poor musician every concert is like an examination. And who are the examiners? Of course, We, the listeners!! Once a ‘kacheri’ starts there is expectation in the air. There are questions in every body’s mind like – is he going to start with a ‘varnam’? if so, which varnam? What raga or song will he sing next? How is the artist going to manage his time? Will there be RTP (Ragam/Tanam/Pallavi)? If so, will it be sung in a single raga or as a Raga-malika? Who are the accompanists? Will the vocalist give a free hand to violin and mridangam? As in all examinations, each question carries marks! As a concert progresses all the questions would be answered one by one. Of course there are always unspelt questions on identifying each raga as soon as the musicians start a particular ‘alap’. Several would try to identify ragas by comparison with known songs or tunes. While this may work in most  cases, certain closely related ragas don’t give away their identity that easily. For instance the difference between Riti gowla & Ananda bhairavi can be found out only by a guy who can identify precise ‘swaras’ in ‘arohanam’ & ‘avarohanam’. This is when a specialist’s knowledge is sought, if there is one sitting nearby. All this is fun, which, one would miss if  he or she were to listen to the same concert after the event.  The latter is like watching the replay of a cricket match after the match is over. In addition, one is sure to come across idiosyncrasies of certain celebrity musicians on stage. And finally there is also good fun for the gossip mongers, who like to dwell into personal lives of musicians (one can hear or overhear people discussing these as well).

Having talked so much about being judgmental, let me pronounce my own judgments based on my limited experience of the season.

A music concert by defintion means a performance given  by a team of musicians acting together in harmony. Therefore, every member of the team is expected to play an important role. However, in carnatic music most of the concerts are known by the main artist, who don’t give freedom to vilonists or mridangam players to produce their best. So they have to play a submissive role and no wonder the concert fees is not shared equally. This not only results in bad blood but also in a situation where one doesn’t have the right atmosphere to produce great accompanists like Palghat Mani, Umayalpuram sivaraman, Lalgudi Jayaramn or TN Krishnan.

I will now briefly review below some of the concerts I attended.

Abhishek Raghuram’s concert at Partha sabha was good in patches. There is no doubt about his musical abilities. Whether it is raaga or Kriti, ‘neraval’ or ‘kalpana swaras’, he is capable of producing the best like any maestro. He is blessed with a pleasing voice which is capable breaking all barriers – kaala(speed barrier), gati, range, gamakas, imaginative phrases etc. Such a gifted musician need not play to the gallery. For instance his swara kalpana in pantuvarali(Raghuvara) in fast pace was tiring and got reduced to the level of vocal acrobatics. Neraval of the kriti starting with ‘Mnasuna Neeke Marulu konnanu’…. was, however, rendered with emotion in a slower pace. It is a kriti full of emotion and best rendered in Madhyama kaala (even kalpana swaras). As a friend of mine said: When you have such a blessed voice, you feel compelled to exhibit what all you can do with it.

I attended two concerts of TM Krishna. He certainly does try to give surprises to the audience (don’t confuse surprises with innovation!). In one concert ‘Rag alap’ was in in one raga, tanam was in a closely associate raga while a kirtana was from a different raga. This may relieve one of  monotony but not necessarily an innovation. That apart, his music is certainly maturing and evolving to greater heights . He is excelling in rendering in slow pace. This pace is particularly suited to ragas like Ananda Bhairavi. This pace also helps the listeners to completely soak and relax in music and absorb the essence of a raga in all its  dimensions. While this is not a new trend ( Bombay Jayashree has been doing this for more than 2 years now), this certainly reinforces the feeling that music is best enjoyed at slow pace.

Sanjay was at his usual best in Parthasaradhi sabha rendering with gusto. He never seems to be completely satisfied with his variations in ‘sangatis’  as he keeps coming up with unexpected and unpredicatable ‘sangatis’  just when we mentally conclude that he has done enough justice and expect him to move on to the next phrase.

Sudha Raghunathan’s concert at Narada Gana Sabha was great and fully justified her top billing.

In Music Academy I attended two concerts back to back – that of Bombay Jayashree & Saketa Raman. While Bombay Jayashree’s concert was according to a formula – melodious and divine with a lot of devotion (bhakti) blended into it, I liked Saketa Raman’s concert even better. His rendering of Nalina Kanti & Bindumalini together for RTP was superb.

Published in: on January 6, 2013 at 1:50 pm  Leave a Comment  
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