With its excellent performances, the Crossroads Concert left Suguna Sundaram with many thoughts and takeaways
The Crossroads Concert marked a weekend of the finest Hindustani and Carnatic classical music, brought together by First Edition Arts, at the Balgandharva Rang Mandir in Bandra. The magnificent old-style performance space, seating a capacity of 800, is complete with balcony and box style loges, and a phenomenal stage, so conducive to creative expression; be it music, dance or drama. Auditoria like this grand one, are dream spaces, and an experience in themselves.
The first day of Crossroads had the Bengaluru-based child prodigy Ramana Balachandran’s Carnatic veena recital, accompanied by Patri Satish Kumar on the Mridangam. At 18, in a short span of six years since he ascended the stage, Ramana has wowed people with his sweet music and mature skill at playing the veena.
That was followed by a Hindustani Vocal performance by Apoorva Gokhale (of the Gwalior Gharana), granddaugher of the great Pandit, Gayanacharya Gajananrao Joshi. She is known for the purity of her raga rendition. She was accompanied by Yati Bhagwat on the tabla, and Chaitanya Kunte on the harmonium.
Day Two saw a morning concert, opening with the dynamic and immensely talented Arnab Chakrabarty playing the sarod. Arnab’s early tutelage began with sarod maestro, Pandit Brij Narayanji, and Ali Akbar Khan Sahab of the Seniya Malhar Gharana. Also, Pandit Buddhadeb Dasgupta of the Shahjahanpur Gharana (gharana is any specialised school or system of classical music or dance).
Arnab’s playing was controlled and mellifluous, never flamboyant even in extremely detailed and elaborate phrases. His alaaps were played very feelingly, slow and measured, and the tonal quality of his sarod playing was satisfyingly superior.
Arnab also flaunted his interest and knowledge in sound and design construction of the instrument with a few asides to the listeners. He seemed casually caustic as he addressed the issue of paucity of listeners, suggesting this was more like a close baithak (gathering of a special few patrons to appreciate art).
He played the morning Raga Bilawal ke Prakaar– a variety of melodies in the same raga family, rounding off with a drut (short) rendtion in Alhaiya Bilawal. He ended his performance with Raga Shuddh Sarang, which touched a chord in ones heart, as Arnab expertly coaxed melody from his sarod.
Giving him expert support was Pandit Ramdas Palsule on the tabla- and his playing was a delight to witness. Extremely skilled playing, strikingly different construction, but never overshadowing the artist, Ramdasji is the ideal kind of accompanist for any artist. Little wonder then, that he has played the tabla for many musical greats in concert. Confident, and master of the tabla, his rhythmic exploration was mind blowing, and compelling in its quality. He played entire stretches of rhythm that left one breathless, just listening.
And then it was time for the enfant terrible of Carnatic Classical Music to take the stage. By which point in time, the audience had filled up to a semblance of decent numbers, with hip South Indian youngsters and mamas and mamis of the senior citizen category. TM Krishna, and his band of boys if you want to call them that, all ace players, did so without much fuss, and held listeners ransom with their spell-binding synchronicty for nearly two-and-a-half hours, and two encores. On the Mridangam was B.Shivaraman, H N Bhaskar on the Violin, and K V Gopalakrishnan on the Kanjira. They made up a desi Fab Four concert.
Opening with a Nammalvar hymn Naamavanivanuvan avalivalyevaluval chanted with so much heart, TMK walked straight into your heart just like that. The Alvars are 12 Vaishnava Saints, from centuries ago, whose hymns were collectively titled Divya Prabandha.
Meru samana, a Thyagaraja composition in Telugu, in Raga Mayamalavagowla, began with a slow elaboration of raga alaap, and TMK’s skill of never overstaying a point or note, has you listening keenly, wanting to hear it just one more time. His swara alaapanai ( alaap using the note syllables) was crisp and the jugalbandi (a duet of two solo musicians) with the mridangam was built up beat by beat, phrase by phrase, to a fittingly soothing conclusion.
The Kanjira makes intriguing sound, and KV Gopalakrishnan played it brilliantly. One has never heard kanjira solo, but TMK’s singing allowed all the Vidwans accompanying him, ample scope to display their consummate talent in long stretches. In fact, so in sync were these four performers, they were a complete inclusive unit, like four friends jamming together on a Sunday morning, the listeners incidental.
Ee Vasudha Neevanti Devamu, another Thyagaraja kriti (compsition) in Telugu, was followed by a Tillana in Nom-tom alaap. Then TMK sang Hemanta Kale Sati Dharma, a Virutham (spontaneous, improvised verse, mostly devotional) which is usually a prelude to a song. In this case, Kshitija Ramanam Chintaye, in Raga DevaGandhari. It was short and crisp, but immensey appealing. By this time, the audience had reached a stage where they were all audibly counting the taalam, waiting breathlessly for the Sam (the first count of the rhythmic pattern or taal) to be reached after each musical phrase. At points in time, when the mridangam, or the violin or kanjira was being played by the virtuosos, TMK would get so lost in it, that he let them run on for ever so long, forgetting to pick up the song again at the next sam, totally endearing himself as he showered vocal appreciation for the other artistes, that he treated as his equals and peers on stage, garnering respect and more love for that.
Thandai neeno, Thaye neeno, a Vachana by Basavanna was movingly devout. Then a composition in Kalyani was to have been the concluding song. But such was the magic of the morning that the audience requested him to sing one more song, which he obliged. And even as the doors of the auditorim opened to let people out, stragglers begged for another. And TMK and his magnificent musicians ended the morning-turned-to-afternoon with a Tulasidas Bhajan. People were dragging their feet out, loath to leave the cocoon of divinity and Bhakti, created by TMK’s music.
Suguna Sundaram belongs to the rare breed of writers in English who review Indian classical music and dance. A trained classical musician and dancer, Suguna has over three decades of experience as a writer. Interestingly, her day jobs over the years have been with all things commercial, including being editor of some of the most popular (and boldest) film fanzines. Suguna Sundaram reviews Indian classical music and dance on Xyngr.