Iyer sisters exceed expectations

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A musical treat for the classical-loving audience from these talented debutantes, reports SOUNDARAJAN IYER

Melbourne’s cultural scene has an embarrassment of riches, especially if one’s tastes tend towards the classical South Indian forms of music and dance. From among the cornucopia on offer, there was one event that was especially looked forward to; the veena arangetram of Nisha and Mahita Iyer, daughters of Sri Gopinath and Ramnath Iyer, acclaimed principals of the Pichumani School of Carnatic Music on February 18, .supported by the renowned percussion maestros from India, Shri Tanjavur Kumar on the mrdangam and Vaikom Gopalakrishnan on the ghatam.

There’s a scene from the epochal Telugu movie Shankara-bharanam where the young pupil, on crossing the musician Shankara Shastri’s threshold, imagines the rich strum of the tambura. The aural symbology of that scene underlined for the viewer the protagonist’s rich musical heritage. One imagines that the homes of the guru-shreshta Iyer brothers would ring just as deeply to the divine amalgam of the seven notes.

Raised in such a verdant environment, the expectations were high for Nisha and Mahita to deliver an event of unsurpassed quality.

They did not disappoint. Indeed, the standard of the full length concert was high enough for someone as accomplished and experienced as the ghatam maestro Sri Vaikom Gopalakrishnan who accompanied the young ladies, to say they performed “…not like in an arangetram but like fully practised artists”.

The medium of expression was from a spectrum of composers in the Carnatic pantheon including among others, Tyagaraja, Muthuswami Dikshitar, Swati Tirunal and Arunachala Kavi.

The knowledgeable audience, well-schooled in the idiom of a Carnatic music concert heard a high quality concert fully in keeping with the Himalayan standards one has come to expect from the Pichumani school. The fact that several well-known but exacting pieces beginning with Vanajaakshi in Kalyani, Mahaganapatim in Naatai, Siva Siva Siva enaraadha in Pantuvaraali and the piéce de résistance ragam-tanam-pallavi in a sparkling Dharmavati were delivered with gravitas and grace to the knowledgeable audience, will stand these supremely talented and schooled young ladies in good stead.

For this listener, several things stayed in memory. The sharp counterpoint of the ghatam by Sri Vaikom Gopalakrishnan to the sober and measured gait of the veenas in the Ritigowlai piece ‘Nannu vidachi’.

KaNden, kaNden, Arunachala Kavi’s composition in Vasanta is Hanuman’s report on having sighted Sita in captivity and given her Sri Rama’s signet ring (the kanai-aazhi). One could sense the excitement combined with sobriety that Hanuman would have had on delivering this long-awaited news to Sri Rama.

The alapanai, where they played in unison and the call and response for ‘Sri Subramanyaya namaste’ in Kambhoji was more than matched by the stalwarts Sri Tanjavur Kumar on the mrdangam and Sri Gopalakrishnan, who were synchronicity personified.

A lot more can be written about, for instance, the neraval kalpanaswaram in Mahaganapathim or the pace of the Revati piece Venkatagiri Naada, or indeed the gruelling effort behind such an event. Mention though, must be made of chief guest Tara Rajkumar, OAM’s address regarding these ‘exceptionally talented young ladies’ music being food for the soul.

Here, one has to quote the Tamil social thinker-poet Subramanya Bharati from his ‘Sentamizh Naadenum Podhinile’ “Idhu uNmai, verum pugazhcchi illai” (this is the truth, not idle praise).

Tara also compared an arangetram to the act of crossing a temple’s threshold. The journey to the centre but begins here with a lot of metaphorical distance to be covered.

Which then reminds us of America’s poet-laureate Walt Whitman’s lines: But where is what I started for so long ago?A nd why is it yet unfound?

The answer would lie in the nature of an ongoing quest, with the journey being its own reward.

Having gained a rapturous commencement to that journey, here’s wishing Nisha and Mahita, the torchbearers of the future, a musical journey replete with wonderment and discovery.

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