Swaras galore at Swara-Laya’s annual fest
Sydney’s own version of an annual international Carnatic music festival is catching up to the mega events of Chennai and Cleveland, notes MALLI IYERThe Swara-Laya Fine Arts Society served up a delectable treat at its fourth annual Sydney Music Festival during the Queen’s birthday weekend. Art and music lovers in the community are a discerning lot who have built up their expectations to the point where they seek high quality, and the Swara-Laya group have not disappointed them. This year’s event saw the coming together of several celebrities of Carnatic music who perform on the global stage with monotonous regularity. The top most celebration of the festive season takes place in Chennai every December, bringing every musician and art lover in hordes from the world over.
The second most recognised event of this kind is held in Cleveland, Ohio every year in March and it is a jamboree for the rich and famous. Sydney Festival has recently attracted attention and it has become a sought after event – the top notch artistes are now vying with each other to get a prestige concert due to the response of the diaspora in Australia and New Zealand.
As a not-for-profit charity group, Swara-Laya have donated thousands of dollars to Ramakrishna Mission and other overseas orphanages with proceeds from the music festival.
This year, Swara-Laya organisers loaded the program schedule to the point that the audience spent their entire weekend attending breakfast, pre-lunch, post lunch and evening musical concerts for three whole days running. Adequate catering arrangements were made so that a variety of food was available at reasonable prices for those that chose to temporarily shut down their kitchens at home.
The music and dance programs were slotted in beautifully to accommodate local artistes, students, fusion, light music and several concerts by the overseas professionals. Rasikas and local aspirants made up of musicians, music teachers, sponsors and patrons from parallel organisations thronged the auditorium.
The highlights of the festival are listed here as per the batting order given by the organisers.
Manasi Prasad A multi-faceted artiste with an MBA to boot, Malati Prasad is a renowned musician, dancer and television host. She kicked off the proceedings with several Meerabai poems such as, Pyaare darshan deejo aaj, Barse badariya saawan ki and Mere to giridhar gopal depicting Meerabai’s journey of life in devotion of Lord Krishna through dance. Her versatility was demonstrated whilst she interspersed her dance with her own singing. Her movements and mudras were a blend of Bharata Natyam and Kathak. The background music was soothing and the dance was expressive. She fully lived up to her reputation as a “young achiever”.
Carnatica Brothers Karaikurichi Shashikiran and ‘Chitraveena Ganesh’ not only have an impressive musical lineage, they have also built up a reputation for lecture demonstrations and researching the teaching methodology in Carnatic music. Their rendition of Diwakaram Sanaiswaram in raga yadukula kamboji was a prayer for blessings of Lord Saneeswaran. They also sang krithis in raga poorvi kalyani, kapi narayani, but their notable item was a Ragam Thanam Pallavi in dual ragas – vasantha and bhairavi – and they blended in ragas ananda bhairavi, sindhu bhairavi and chalak bhairavi in the Pallavi ragamalika. They capped their performance with a Thillana in raga bindu malini. Accompaniments were provided by RK Shriram Kumar on the violin and K.Murugabhoopathy on the mridangam. Their improvisations and occasional departure from the well established “kutcheri” traditions were obviously enjoyable – the audience gave them rapturous applause.
O.S. Thiagarajan Nicknamed “Oh Yes”, Thiagarajan excels with his concert style in addition to pursuing a career in accounting with Shalimar Paints. Thiagarajan’s selection of songs and krithis this time round, were pleasing to the ear. He sang raga varali followed by khamas (sujana jeevana), manoranjitham (adugathara), kaapi (rama raghukula jalanidhi) and yadukula kamboji (hecchharika garara). The brilliance of raga alapana in karaharapriya in the krithi Chakkani Raja was outstandingly rendered and the neraval at kandigi sundara was elaborate and a very satisfying part of his concert. He concluded by singing raga behaag (Muruguanin maru peyar azhagu). The concert by Carnatica Brothers was a stark contrast to the traditional/classical style of OS Thiagarajan – each enjoyable in their own right. Embar Kannan on the violin, Trichy Sankaran on the mridangam and SV Ramani on the ghatam were more than competent and added lustre to Thiagarajan’s concert.
The performances of Day One of the festival could be termed as absorbing and everyone went home with a bellyful of classical music.
Day Two was marked by joint singing of Saint Thyagaraja’s pancharatna krithis by well known as well as lesser known artistes. As always the pancharatna krithis evoked sentiments of bhakthi and brought out the saint’s unswerving devotion to Lord Rama.
V.K. Manimaran Well known for his resonant voice and adherence to the “sruti”, Manimaran gave a shorter concert in comparison to some of the big wigs. His rendering of Ananda nadamadum in raga poorvi kalyani and Siva chidambarame in raga nagaswaravali stood out. He also sang ragas maya malava gowlai, devagaandhari and keeravani – all crisp – to the accompaniment of Embar Kannan on violin and Mannargudi Easwaran on the mridangam. Manimaran has been performing regularly in most Chennai sabhas during the Academy music season and has received several accolades from Universities in Tamil Nadu and recognised musical forums.
Kanyakumari and Embar Kannan This was a dual violin concert in the true guru/shishya parampara as Kalaimamani Kanyakumari is one of the senior most violinists in the industry, having played alongside Carnatic greats like MLV, Dr. N. Ramani, Dr. M. Balamuralikrishna and MS Subbalaxmi. The percussion accompaniment of thavil by Muthukumarasamy, mridangam by Murugabhupathi and ghatam by SV Ramani, was a unique feature of this concert. The resonance of the “thavil” easily attains 110 decibels without the microphone aiding the loudness. Kanyakumari started with a varnam in raga nattakurinji and then excelled in ragas suryakantham, nasikabhooshani and dwijavanthi. She and Embar Kannan were a class apart in the krithi Sri valli devasenapathey in raga nata bhairavi. The spontaneity of their neraval and swaras was captivating as was their combining and competing with each other. This concert was every bit a delight for the very knowledgeable audience. Kanyakumari and Embar Kannan concluded with the very pleasing song Om namo narayana in raga karnaranjani.
Malladi Brothers Sree Rama Prasad and Ravi Kumar hail from Andhra Pradesh belonging to a family where devotion to music goes back three generations. They have Masters’ degrees in music and have been performing publicly for twenty years now. Their music is notable for the perfect matching of their voices and the bhava (singing with deep inner feelings) in all their renderings. They commenced with a varnam in raga begada and followed it with krithis in ragas nagaswaravali, janaranjani, ritigowla and behaag. Their in-depth expositions were in nagaswaravali, ramapriya and kamboji, all of which gave ample evidence of their wide repertoire. Their creative singing of alapana, manodharma swaras and neravals was impressive. Accompanists Embar Kannan on the violin, Mannargudi Easwaran on Mridangam and SV Ramani on the ghatam were extremely competent. This was one of the concerts that stood out for its sheer classical pleasure.
Nithyasree Mahadevan Nithyashree has attained name and fame at a young age, not merely because she is the grand daughter of the legendary Palghat Mani Iyer and DK Pattammal and the niece of DK Jayaraman, but she has developed a style of her own and is a huge draw amongst Carnatic music lovers. Nithyashree has shown excellent ability to sing light music also. She prides herself on her devotion to her family and her young children, besides practising hours and hours of music. She started with a varnam in raga surutti and followed it with krithis in raga vagadeeswari, vakulabharanam, ataana, bilahari and chintamani. Her range and high sruti were fully explored in the krithi Sree raja gopala in raga saveri. She was repeatedly applauded for her ragam, thanam, pallavi in raga shanmukhapriya. Despite her concert being the last of the four performances for the day, she held the audience to rapt attention throughout – a great credit to a young artiste.
Isai Sangamam (Confluence of melody) Day three of the festival started with students’ performances and was followed by this event – an item compered and coordinated by Subhasree Thanikasalam with a supporting crew of KN Sasikiran, Chitraveena Ganesh, Anand Dikshit, SV Ramani on mridangam and Kishen Jayendran on tabla. This was an exercise in demonstrating the classical ragas to creating film songs and light music of famous music director Ilayaraja. The resultant fusion music that was created was very enjoyable. Subhasree’s terrific sense of humour and her involvement of the audience towards the end went off extremely well.
Nisha Rajagoplan Here is another young talent who will surely hit big time in the not-too-distant future. Nisha had her initial training from her mother Vasundhara Rajagopal whilst in Toronto, Canada. She has taken up residence in India for nearly 15 years now and has had the privilege of learning from stalwarts like TR Subhramanyam, Calcutta Krishnamurthi and PS Narayanaswamy. She showed touches of her brilliance in the krithi Ninne nera nammi naanura in raga panthuvarali. She also gave the audience a taste of her outstanding talent in the krithi Thiruvadi sharanam in raga kamboji. Her rendering of Sree raja matangi in suddha dhanyasi earlier and Kandena govindana in chandrakauns were melodious. Nisha probably had adequate support on the violin from Dr. Ashok Malur and on the mridangam from Trivandrum Balaji, but one could not help feeling that she deserved better.
Shashank (Flute) A child prodigy of yester year, Shashank was the youngest to perform at the Music Academy, Chennai at the age of 12. He has since received tutelage from KV Narayanaswamy and RK Srikantan and is considered to be one of the foremost players of bamboo flute. He has definitely made a mark on the global stage and the accolades he receives are frequent and many. He started with a varnam Viri boni in bhairavi and followed with Evaroora ninnuveena in raga mohanam where his speed of rendition was achieved without compromising the nuances of the raga. He also played Kamalaptha koola in brindavana saranga, and Mokshamu galadha in saramati. He was often tempted to break into fast to very fast tempo which is probably a feature of his playing for western audiences. His ragam, thanam pallavi in raga kalyani was an exhibition of switching from lower to higher octaves using the magic of his fingers on the flute, and it was delightful for the audience. He also played a ragamalika in bageshwari, bindu malini pantuvarali and kaapi, and followed these with Krishna nee begane in raga yamuna kalyani. He appeared to test his accompanists for their ability to match his speed, but it appeared to sacrifice the classicality of his music.
Sudha Raghunathan Already a household name, Padmashri Sudha Raghunathan has established herself as the foremost successor to the legendary ML Vasanthakumari. She dedicated this concert to her guru, whose 80th birth anniversary is being celebrated in 2010. She also dedicated the concert to her grand-guru Sree GN Balasubramaniam whose centenary is being celebrated in 2010. She paid her homage to her gurus by singing their compositions. It was a memorable concert for another reason – Sudha’s guru and violinist Embar Kannan’s guru (MLV and Kanyakumari) had associations as a team for over 20 years and this was a forum where the two shishyas had combined together. She started with a varnam in raga ranjani. This was followed by krithis in ragas karaharapriya, bhairavam and ritigowla. Her main ragas were suddha saveri (dharinee telusu kondi) and chhaya ranjani, a raga created by GNB, Nee vadinche yendu. Sudha’s mastery of the nuances was unquestionable and her creativity has little parallel. She follows the true traditions of her gurus in her gamakas and bhrigas, a benchmark created by GNB.
T.M. Krishna Well known as a disciple of Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, Krishna started singing to huge audiences at the age of 12 and is now a participant in every music festival, globally. His music attains heights in creativity, fluency and resonance which can only be the mark of a genius. His devotion is evident in some of the krithis he sings, as they ooze bhakthi bhava. In this concert his rendering of Visweswara darshan kar in raga sindhu bhairavi was one such instance. He creates his own variations in the concerts and on this occasion the audience was bewildered by his singing the bhairavi varnam in the middle of his performance rather than at the beginning. It must, however, be said that the viri bon” sung by him was uniquely appealing to everyone. TM Krishna’s music offers another bonus to the listeners/viewers – he gestures with his hands and gives out body language to the point of providing an extra dimension to his music – it may not delight the purists but this artistic eccentricity is sometimes the mark of a genius.
Krishna also sang Akshaya linga vibho in raga sankarabharanam, Raamani samaana evaru in karaharapriya, Kaalai thookki ninraadum deivam in yadukula kamboji and Sarasa saamadana in kaapi narayani. The accompanists were RK Shriram Kumar on the violin, Trichy Sankaran on the mridangam and SV Ramani on the ghatam. Trichy Sankaran’s thani aavarthanam rates a special mention as he played very elaborate notes and matched the brilliance of TM Krishna’s bhairavi in every way.
This festival was notable for the impact created by Embar Kannan and RK Shriram Kumar by their violin accompaniment, but Trichy Sankaran, K. Murugabhoopathi and Mannargudi Easwaran gave a delightful performance on the percussion and Muthukumarasamy equally on the thavil.
In its totality, the festival can be summarized as “scintillating”, with Sydney audiences yearning for more.