2008 Music Season – Bests from my Concert List


The Madras Music Season spans more than a month, with at least ten prominent sabhas holding at least five concerts per day, spanning their schedule for about twenty days. This adds up to easily more than a thousand concerts performed in over a month all around the city. What I sampled is only about 35 concerts, less than five percent of the total. Any assessment that I offer with my rather rambunctious musical ears coarse-tuned for the task could be immaculately inaccurate – like the profits of Satyam Software – if not purely speculative – like the retirement age of Mathew Hayden. Nevertheless, here is a list of the best from the concerts I attended.

  • AlApanai
    • Prasanna Venkatraman at Sastri Hall Dec 23, 3pm concert; rAgam – mukhAri; kIrthanAi: muripemugalE of tyAgarAjA

Upcoming talent Prasanna was all class in his effort barring a minor phase of non-mukhAri like phrases he got into in the middle for a while. One could vividly hear more than just traces of Musiri Subrahmanya Iyer style of construction and delivery. My friend quipped to me, "Arunn, you had stumped me some years before to define what bhAvam is in Carnatic music. This (the singing of Prasanna on that day) is it". The accompanists (Charumathi Raghuraman in violin and V. Sankaranarayanan in mridangam) also rendered able and soothing support. If things go right (which I hope it will), Prasanna is going to be a star in the near future.

  • kIrthanai Rendition
    • T. M. Krishna at Music Academy; rAgam – bilahari

The AlApanai itself was not the best, but the kIrthAnai rendition was brilliant, especially the phase when all the sangathis for the pallavi was delivered. The entire team rose to support each other to give me goose pimples.

  • niraval Rendition
    • T. M. Krishna – more than one song; many concerts

Singing neraval is difficult. Even yesterday stalwarts have dared to safely leave out this section from their musical careers so that they don't have to loose face having tried and failed. If you observe in concerts, even swara kalpanai can be attempted with reasonable success in rare rAgAs. But not neraval. Musicians only attempt neraval in safe and well tested rAgAs, with some available reference. In contemporary music, TM Krishna seems to have taken it upon himself to excel in neraval. He gives a sincere effort with this in every concert.  One immediate difference I could spot in his delivery is the punchy climax that many others are unable to bring out.  Some years before TMK used to inadvertently raise the tempo of the kIrthanA when he delivers the neraval real fast, but nowadays he has managed to keep the tempo taut without loosing pace in the neraval kOrvais and ideas. The result is an excellent neraval section with a good thundering many Avarthanam (several cycles of the basic talam of the song) spanned climax that brings the house down. Keep it up TMK.

  • swara kalpanai
    • ?

Actually I couldn't spot any one instance that was really superb. Many were certainly competent. But what I am looking for – and couldn't find in the concerts I attended – is an extended swara kalpanai section (about 15 to 25 minutes) in which the ideas don't repeat both in slow and fast tempos. Conveniently, the dearth of ideas in the swarams section is not coming to the fore as the present day concerts themselves are short (compare two and half hours with four to five hours in the past). And so the swarams section is safely limited to within fifteen minutes even in the main item of the concert, allowing the performers to memorize good thIrmAnams and swara patterns from what is available and deliver with competence. Of course, exceptions exist but remain as one.

  • thani Avarthanam by solo or duo
    • Neyveli Venkatesh (mridangam) and Bangalore B. Rajashekar (moharsing); Dec 29 7 pm Sanjay concert at Music Academy

The uniqueness of this thani exchange is that the mohrsing touched some hitherto unheard sounds for me. Literally breathtaking. And Neyveli Venkatesh is to be praised for bringing out the best from Rajashekar by playing suitably challenging abiprAyams and kOrvais.

  • Concert (overall performances by all artists involved)
    • T. M. Krishna, R. K. Shriramkumar, Arun Prakash, B. S. Purushothaman; Dec 27, 7 pm concert at Music Academy

The quick-to-criticize-and-never-to-repent amongst us concert rasikas who listen to the main singer predominantly and hence want the mridangam player to bang to be noticed and look for only pace from the mridangist never can comprehend why Arun Prakash is good. I can remember two years back in the Music Academy, accompanying TMK, Arun Prakash seemed to have kept quiet for a long pause in a slow moving song. There were rasikas in some online music forum who lambasted Arun at that time that he had lost the plot and didn't know what to play. What they failed to notice was that Arun is left handed and hence the mike support usually is on the wrong side. The thoppi side was doing amazing things even at that concert. As it did in this year's concert. Thankfully, this time, there were mikes all around. This is one concert that showed to many – who were willing to listen without biases – why Arun Prakash is much sought after by musicians. The subtlety, variations, the ability to adjust and play for each kIrthAnA is a precious and rare sub-art in mridangam playing itself. And his thani in kanda Ata tAlam (the main piece was the bhairavi varnam vIribhOni) was very good. BSP in kanjira is another good artist who can match any mridangist, beat for beat, sol for sol. I have a snap-judge friend who keeps saying he learns mridangam for three years now (and correctly hails many of the stalwarts) but never could manage to spot why Arun Prakash is good. My friend will learn eventually for, it takes some patience to appreciate anything and especially as intricate an art form as our rich Classical music. sogasugA mridanga tAlamu.

  • Concert Performer
    • Sanjay Subramanian – many concerts

In spite of the classicism and knowledge that he possesses, one could perceive that Sanjay sings not only for the purist but also attempts to satisfy even the outside enthusiast. But as it happens, popularity requires the performer to be omnipresent in all the sabhas, resulting sometimes in concerts that fall below the competent mean the artist sets – as it happened in the KGS concert. With his inherent uncontrollable creative urge, Sanjay could at times vacillate between the sublime and the avoidable, if not the ridiculous – as it happened in the kAmbOji AlApanai at Music Academy. But I don't mind it. Only an experimenter,  a risk taker, after making some mistakes could show us the sublime and push the borders.

  • RTP
    • T. N. Seshagopalan at MFAC in GamakakriyA, srI, bAgEsri

MFAC, that place of many a memorable concerts by the master for the past twenty years. We the rasikas attend the present with that indelible past, to relive the past, the improbable, the impossible, to live the present, the probable and the possible. Thankfully, once more, it was ethereal.

  • Creativity
    • Vasundhara Rajagopal – more than one concert

I have already written an elaborate review of her concerts in Vasundhra Rajagopal and pAsurams in RTP

  • Repertoire and Classicism
    • Parassala Ponnammal – many concerts

I have written about this octogenarian earlier. It was good to see that she, a direct disciple of Harikesanallur Muthiah Baghavathar, was invited by many sabhas this season. I attended her Music Academy concert. The gamut of senior and contemporary musicians present there on that day corroborated the obvious. All one could wonder is where have this type of relaxed, methodical yet creative, each song with AlApanai and if possible neraval kind of singing gone. Such singing portrays a laid-back bygone generation that we will forever loose in our Carnatic-for-ring-tone times. I am thankful that I could sample it before it ends…

[Tamil Version]