Thursday, 23 December 2010

(Music) Season's Greetings : A Concert Fiesta!

And once again, this Malaysian made her way through the December Music Festival in Chennai, to feed her soul!

Strangely, this year felt different - somehow, lots of new singers were given primtetime slots and seasoned faves seemed to sit this season out a little. Very uncharacteristic of the Madras Music Season. My best friend's take is that seasoned musicians are now flying around the world, performing all year round, hence leaving slots open for newbies in Margazhi! A reliable source also informed me that one or two seasoned performers had intentionally decided to be in the audience, rather than take the stage this year, but did not say why the unexpected move was taken specifically this year. Fortunately however, I got the best of the seasonsed and new performers, with a little advanced planning and loads of luck.

Chennai was wet, wet, wet! And cold! Riding through the streets in my Fast Track taxi from the airport, it was soon discernible that the city was just recovering from the infamous winter floods that never fail to be reported on local and international primtetime news every year. By the time I'd cruised through Chennai's streets and pulled up to my hotel however, I was absolutely excited at the familiar sights, sounds and smells of Chennai!

The next days were nothing short of musically delightful. Starting with friend Kuldeep Pai's concert at BVB's mini hall was a great appetiser to the season. One of his best pieces was Ata Modi ( raga: Charukesi), which to me, was a primer of the bliss to come this season! Humbly accepting a warm invite home for lunch next week from the starlet and his wife, I made my way to the bulettin board of BVB to see what was in store for the next day. A session on 'sanskrit in carnatic music' caught my eye on the board and my plans were magically etched for the next day.

Following days included one particularly long auto ride to Adyar, to catch the expressively rebellious OS Arun. Unfortunately, the concert was predominantly Murugan "songs", rather than krithis, which meant several folk numbers were interspersed into his repertoire. Of course, he never failed to infuse his personal style into these numbers, but an artiste with talent like his always fills out a krithi far better than a small folk number! Nonetheless, I was determined to stay for the full performance and catch the little vocal nuggets he threw into concerts without fail! My conclusion is that this man could sing a nursery rhyme and it would sound out of this world!

The start of the season at Music Academy on 15th Dec was a free TVS concert which was indeed a treat for me, since I'd not experienced his concerts in Chennai, in the past. As I was recovering from a flu, I was bummed that I'd missed Suguna Varadachari and Shankari Krishnan earlier the same day. In fact, missing those ones led me to haul myself for the evening concert at the academy 'against the odds' - i.e. despite having low energy levels and several spoons of drowsiness-causing cough syrup!

The most disappointing part of my trip was making it to Mylapore Fine Arts just in time to be told that Aruna Sayeeram's concert was filled to the brim! The only place I could listen to the concert, was in the drizzle outside the gates, amidst auto horns and speeding motorcycles! I noticed that some ardent fans preferred to wait in the wet weather, hoping for seats to free up in the course of the evening. Knowing it was too much of a long shot and a particularly uncomfortable wait in the winter rain, I quickly hailed an auto and made my way to Music Academy. I was glad to have thus caught the tail end of Kanyakumari and Embar Kannan's violin treat! Next in the same venue, was Manda Sudharani, who took the primetime slot. Curious about this new name in such a coveted slot, I stayed on after the violin concert. I was pleasantly surprised to be engaged from start to finish!

Having 'bathed' in musical notes over the last few days, I realised it was time for some left-brain activity. Attending Sumathi Krishnan's lec-dem was a priority the next day. She covered the varieties in varnams - chowka, pada, daru. And as is usual fashion in academy lec-dems, she was mercilessly bombarded by learned scholars, aspiring theorists and seasoned musicologists on her assertions and research.

I stayed on for Savita Narasimhan, yet another newbie, who amazed me with her melifluous vocals. But I stayed on just until 3.30pm, just in time to make a dash for the NGS main hall concert which I had been waiting for! It was P. Unnikrishan! Having proudly and successfully purchased a good seat in his concert, I was one of the first in the queue to enter the hall - availing me the best choice of seats. I was elated. However, when the concert started, I realised I'd been to better katcheris of Unni's in the past. Unfortunately, the percussion was playing over his singing and his sahitya was indiscernible. I was heartbroken, as in the past, this singing sensation had taken me to a plane of bliss that I felt even 3 days after his concert! As some friends told me, he could have been having a bad day. My disappointment of course, was that it was just unfortunate that I had to go all the way to Chennai to see him perform on one of his "bad days"!

The next concert made the wound all better! Primtetime in the academy, Kunnakudi Balamuralikrishna, the (ex)child prodigy who is all grown up now, and still makes waves with every piece he sings! You're awesome, boy! Of course, his pakkavadyam (Mrdangam) Umayalpuram Sivaraman lifted the entire performance another notch! This mrdangist needs neither intro nor praise; Suffice to say "Listen to him once, and you're hooked"!

Probably the highlight of the season for me was young Abhishek Raghuram, who I first heard in 2008. This chap just keeps growing and growing, musically! He is so creative that he can't help formulating new and beautiful sangathis for krithis, and give every musical mathematician/ mathematical musician a run for his money! If it weren't for squeezing into the Mini Hall at NGS and ducking from enthusiastic thala gestures of excited fans, I may have enjoyed Abhishek even more - if that is at all possible!

You can't leave Chennai without one KJ Jesudas concert on your itenerary. So I did just that. Thanks to friends, a free ticket was at hand for the concert. Jesudas made his usual magic and left an impression on me with a piece in Reethigowla, followed by another in Devamanohari. Known more for invoking emotion than for technical prowess, I think my soul food quota was filled for the day, despite short falls in kanaku. But that was ok! Variety in katcheris is the spice of life! I guess I was ready to head home, feeling fulfilled for the day.

I am however, a tad greedy when it comes to katcheris. So I did not want to pass up the opportunity to avail a dose of Sikkil Gurcharan at the Sivagami Petachi Auditorium. He enthralled audience for three hours and is one of the few atistes I've seen who appears to give the concert a "band" feel rather than a solo-performance feel. This is quite (pleasantly!)uncharacteristic of carnatic concerts I've otherwise attended and hence is yet another novelty witnessed this time during the season. I was awestruck as soon as he started his Ranjani RTP which at the pallavi stage, morphed into Sriranjani and then Janaranani before spawning Kharaharapriya. He also challenged the audience by singing a long alapana in a raga some thought resembled Thodi and others knew belonged to the Nethrachakra given G1 and M1. I realised the raga was #11 in the Melakartha, but it was my genius of a university senior who effortlessly whispered "Kokilapriya" into my ear within seconds of the full scale being rendered.

Ready for another dose of intellectual nourishment, I attended two lectures; "Harikatha in four south indian states" and "Varnam in Six Kalas", at the music academy. I missed the Suguna Purushotaman concert in Forum, but managed to finally attend Shankari Krishnan on my last day, catching her in Thodi-action. It was great that I bumped into about ten people I knew from my uni days that day and made a small reunion out of it!

Shortly after, grappling between Sanjay Subramanyam and Bombay Jayshree to attend, I finally resorted to the former's concert. And boy, did I make the right decision! Though I got a seat on the dias, about 6 feet away from the singer, it was a fabulous experience! I thought it would be uncomfortable, but I can't say I felt disadvantaged even for a second. Sanjay's energy draws you into his performance and he gives you moments when neither you nor he exists! Such is the power of his music. "Who knew Hindolam could be sung like that?!" was all I was thinking as he belted the RTP. And I love the way he never fails to display his thala while singing, making it both, a learning experience as well as a purely-pleasurable one for me.

Overall, the season was well-spent where I was concerned. Paatu katcheri and saapaatu katcheri, were equally good. Can't wait for next year's experience!

Photo Courtesy: The Hindu