I went, I listened, and left depressed. I am talking about this much-hyped concert that happened on Saturday.
Indian music icons Pandit Hari Prasad Chaurasia, M Balamurali Krishna and L Subramanian will come together to perform on a single platform on March eight in the city.
It was supposed to be the first-ever jugalbandi of its kind, a conglomeration of giants, a meeting of the icons… and it was just that: a meeting.
First off, I’m against any “timed” concert. By its very nature, Indian classical music concerts, until pretty recently, were not bound by time. While that no longer is real, concerts that still adhere to tradition have a marked difference in terms of quality of performance. You might disagree, but this is a point that merits a separate discussion.
The concert was titled Resonance, but what resonated right through was sadness, right from a certain Balakrishna Hegde’s introductory speech, which seemed longer than the concert itself. He repeatedly got the artistes’ name wrong, and focussed more on his organization’s achievements than anything else. I personally felt jarred listening to the artistes indulge in mutual back-slapping more often than not–right in the middle of the performance.
Clubbing L. Subramaniam with Balamuralikrishna and Hariprasad Chaurasia also assaulted my sensibilities. I had almost decided to skip the concert for just this one reason. Yet the allure of the other two masters convinced me otherwise.
Hariprasad Chaurasia went first, greeting the audience with some naughty lines on gopikas, both of Krishna’s time and the uncountable pretty dames in the audience. He opened the concert by welcoming the Chandrama, the moon with one of my favourites, Marwa, the distant cousin of the Carnatic Gamanashrama (Purvi Kalyani). It was characteristic of Chaurasia, and showcased his command over both the raga and the instrument. His incessant sojourn of Marwa across D r N G m instantly evoked blissful pathos. The dominance of Bhava (feeling, emotion) in Hindustani classical music is the main reason it is so close to my heart. From a master like Chaurasia wielding a bhava-heavy Marwa is like going on the journey to bliss. However, thanks to time constraints, he cut the journey short, leaving me fuming. Quality-wise, I’ve heard better from this artiste but I guess I needed to be better prepared to expect nothing beyond this from these khichdi kinda concerts.
Balamuralikrishna’s piece was a self-composed rendition, Omkara Karini in Lavangi, a raga he has himself “created.” At 77, he proved again that he is still the undisputed monarch of Carnatic classical music. His voice has lost none of its depth and sway. Methinks Balamurali is the only living musician who has shown that it is possible to infuse bhava in rendering Carnatic compositions on par with the Hindustani stream. In many ways, he deserves credit for rescuing Carnatic music from the stranglehold of tala, the likes of which once dominated concerts rendered mostly by the Madras Greats, without naming anybody here.
Speaking of which, L. Subramaniam next shared the dias with his teenaged son, Ambi. Funny, the compere included Ambi when he read out the “list of living legends.” The duo began an alapana of Gauri Manohari. I’m not sure which violin he used but it sounded jarring. Surprisingly, the aalpana was above average because my expectations from this artiste ranged from low to average. The composition (forgot the name now) was pretty ok but the kalpana swara prasthanams just went on and on and on, father and son taking turns. This is truly in the tradition of the Madras Greats who overdo the swara prasthanams till it turns into meaningless acrobatics in arithmetic. In a word: miserable. And yeah, I’m inherently biased against L. Subramaniam’s music but that’s a reason I’ll explore another day. In a line, his stature and fame are grossly disproportionate to his abilities.
The real jugalbandi began next with Hamsadhwani, a raga common to both streams and a personal favourite. The Balamurali-Chaurasia combination worked amazingly well here. The two alternated, one picking up where the other left, and one expanding what the other just hinted at. Balamurali surprised everyone when he suddenly lapsed into a aa-nam-tat-tat-tanananam but tapered off as suddenly. I expected him to complete the ragam tanam pallavi…no such luck. Equally, he abandoned the aalapana midway and began Jayadeva’s Vanamali. The concert closed with the mandatory display of the talents of the accompanists. Again, even this was an overkill.
You cannot really blame the artistes: they have (unfortunately) mastered the art of playing to the kind of audience that attends these concerts. You organize a corporatish concert with well-decked ignoramuses making up 90% of the audience, and you get a let-down performance. These selfsame artistes wouldn’t dare perform this way in the concerts held in the sabhas and temples in the bylanes of Bangalore.
Now let me get back to Balamurali’s Seetamma Mayamma or his fantastic ragam tanam pallavi in Revathi…Chaurasia’s Keeravani and Malkauns are equally alluring…
Crossposted on Desicritics.