Thursday, January 02, 2014

Wrapping up 2013 musically

The music season in Chennai is one rocking affair. Multiple sabhas around town host some of most talented and popular musicians and events starting in mid December and going on until early January. Past attempts at attending have been half hearted and unfocused but this time I was determined to make full use of a week. Fair warning for the remaining part of this article - so many adjectives used that I ran out of them at some point.

The Music Academy in Chennai is an awe inspiring auditorium comparable to most music halls in the west. The cavernous interiors with well laid out seating and incredible acoustics lend themselves to a superior experience for your senses.

I had the honor of opening my account with U Srinivas; a master of Carnatic music on the mandolin. His use of the low bass is exemplary and one wishes he just plays bass all the time. This is not to take away from his overall mastery and control of a difficult instrument like the mandolin for playing Carnatic music. Accompanying U Srinivas were S.D. Sridar (violin), Trichy B. Harikumar (Mridangam), E.M. Subramanayam (Ghatam) and Selvaganesh on the Kanjira.

The start was the haunting and melodious Kaanada raaga which pretty much set the stage for the remaining performance. This was followed by a mesmerizing piece in Bahudari, Nattai, Sriranjini, Shanmugapriya (Thiru Venkata Muraya Jaya Jaya Govinda). With my 10 year old daughter attending her first full performance, we didn't get to stay till the end but I got a good dose of some amazing mandolin playing.

Unfortunately, the Music Academy is a bit uptight about their tickets and one needs to get there at 5:30 a.m. to get a token which can then be exchanged for a ticket at 8 a.m. As a result, I was not able to get any other events by well known artistes. Oh well....

On Christmas day, it was off to Krishna Gana Sabha in T Nagar for Sanjay Subrahmanyan who's one of the young breed of vocalists making big strides in the musical halls of fame.  Again, the presence of two fidgety ten year olds cut short the experience but from what little I was able to listen, I was determined to attend his concert the next time I had the chance.

The highlight of all the kutcheris I attended was undoubtedly Kadri Gopalnath on the saxophone. Unadorned by company, the focus was complete during his three hour non-stop performance which had me in tears for most of the time. What made it better was the fact that he played the ragas and compositions that I am familiar with. An opening with the evergreen Vatapi Ganapathi in Hamsadwani just sealed the deal. He was more than ably accompanied by A Kanyakumari on the violin who is a top notch violinist in India. The lilting Moksha Mogalada in Saramati was the piece de resistance and the gamakas were something else. To top that, he played Innu Daya Baarade and this was easily a 15 minute performance and the way Kanyakumari kept up with him was a treat to watch and hear. Both mridangam and tabla accompanied this great musician who has no equal in India or for that matter anywhere in the world for playing carnatic music on the saxophone. The finale was Bhagyada Lakshmi Baaramma and the last few minutes showed us why he's the best as the increasing tempo and crescendo to finish with a bang threw us off our chairs for a standing ovation.

Back at Krishna Gana Sabha a couple of days later, L Subramanyam hosted the Global Music Festival which saw stalwarts like Dr. M. Balamuralikrishna and Pandit Jasraj perform short and sweet gems leaving us yearning for more. The alaap recital with Pandit Jasraj and L Subramanyam was truly other worldly! The day also saw the introduction of Oystein Baadsvik to India. Hailing from Norway, he's pretty much the only solo tuba player and his mixture of tuba playing and lecture demo were astounding. Hubert Laws on the flute was yet another extraordinary event.

Proving that talent runs in the family, the daughter and son of L Subramanyam sang and played violin (respectively) and assured us that the future of music is in good hands. Kavita Krishanmurthy then sang a few bhajans and her powerful and passionate renditions were calming and invigorating at the same time.

Finally dragging the wife, we finished our Chennai trip with a vocal recital by the Malladi Brothers with the superbly talented Mysore Nagaraj on the violin. The brothers complement each other in every way and their music is pure, imaginative and rich. 

Lots more to write but want to stop before the rambling gets worse. At least one of the new year resolutions is to revive my own musical learning so we'll see how that goes.

Here's to a great new year to everyone and for me - more running, writing and learning.

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