Sanjay Subrahmanyan, the Irresistible

The maestro of Carnatic music Sanjay Subrahmanyan was in his element at a recent Sydney concert

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From the moment Sanjay Subrahmanyan took to the stage – dressed in all white – he had the audience spellbound.

This, despite the fact that they knew the program beforehand.

The maestro of Carnatic music likes these days to announce in advance the details of his recital including the raga and tala.  It was the same at his Sydney performance at The Concourse Concert Hall in Chatswood on 16 March.

Organised by the Shakti Classical Music Festival, which intends to promote the pursuit of classical music excellence in Australia, it turned out to be a concert worthy of remembering: there were no speeches (except for a brief introduction and vote of thanks). Nothing but music came from the dais. It was a pleasure to listen to our Carnatic music, from our favourite star, in this venue with excellent sound system and acoustics.

Source: Supplied

Accompanied by S Varadarajan on violin and Neyveli Venkatesh on Mridangam, Sanjay Subrahmanyan rendered a concert that was planned to the very last detail, and wonderfully executed. There was little gap between the items. To top it all, the three artists behaved like one, in that the accompanists were fully aware of the nuances and idiosyncrasies of Sanjay. It was remarkable and sometimes fun to watch Varadarajan promptly reproduce on the violin Sanjay’s vocal notes.

Sanjay started with Bhavanutha, a popular item in Mohana Raga, the notes coming out like water sprinkling from a fountain. A swara prasthara was included as well. Then came Kalai Magale in Raga Saraswathi, an expressive prayer. Sakala Bhuvana in Kedaram exhibited a slow build-up of swara prasthara and a good rapport with accompaniments. These two items stood as a testament to Sanjay’s masterly rendering of Tamil compositions.

Amba Kamakshi, a swarajathi in Raga Bhairavi is regarded as a gem in Carnatic music. Almost every great musician has chosen to perform it in live recitals. Sanjay began with an elaborate alapana for this item. With a childlike curiosity, he seemed to play with the notes or joke with the notes. The two liked each other! Sometimes it was as if he was taking us to a distant land and narrating a story intimately.

The accompanists heightened our experience of Bharavi. Then started the krithi at a slow pace.

Kāmākṣi ambā anudinamumaravakanē

Nīpādamule dikkanucu nammitini śrīkañci kāmākṣi

(Goddess Kamakshi! Ever remembering that your lotus feet are my only refuge, I place my faith in you, O Goddess of Kanchi).

Then with gestures of hand, eyes and face, Sanjay enacted the feelings and sentiments of the great composition, which describes the beauty of the Goddess. Further, the devotee surrenders to Her with the words,

Are you not the Paavani – the purifier? Don’t you hear my entreaties? Why are you indifferent? Pray listen, Mother.

These sentiments were rendered in notes first and then in words. Sanjay excelled in this blissful performance. Listening to him in this number, was like melting into nothingness. It made one appreciate the power of music to convey emotions without the aid of words.

Sanjay presented the formal ragam thanam pallavi with Raga Desh, rarely elaborated in concerts. It is a Raga reserved for short entertaining pieces towards the end. After an imaginative and elaborate alapana and thanam, he chose the following poetic line from Subramanya Bharathi for the pallavi.

EngaL kaNNammA naghai pU rOjAppU engal kaNNammA vizhi indra nilappU.

With neruvals giving different shades of the raga and swara prasthara in Ragamalika, the audience was provided with a unique and pleasing experience of Raga Desh. Finishing it all with the popular number in the same Raga, Thunbam Nergaiyil, turned out to be the musical cherry on top.

Thaniavartanam by Neyveli Venkatesh following these items entertained the audience, especially his playing with only his left hand at times.

The concert concluded with Manna PugaL in Ragamalika.

Sanjay Subrahmanyan in concert at Sydney 2024
Source: Supplied

Almost every item ended in a climax with the vocalist and the accompanists reaching their higher acoustic levels. At times, it seemed noisy to me, although the audience seemed to like it, rewarding the musicians with standing ovations.

Sanjay Subrahmanyan proved yet again that he is indeed the Master, as evidenced by the admirers who flocked to him after the concert for a selfie.

READ ALSO: Bhairavi and Nanthesh: Reconciling identity through music

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