Tag Archives: Ghatam Giridhar Udupa

Illusion of Pure Sound feat. Jayanthi Kumaresh, Zakir Hussain at Chowdaiah Memorial

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Not very often do you get to see a packed Chowdaiah Memorial Hall on a Wednesday evening. But that’s mostly because not very often do you get to see a classical concert that brings together the Saraswati Veena with the Tabla. Especially when you start to name the artistes for the evening, behind the instruments.

The last time Ustad Zakir Hussain recalls playing a similar concert was with the legendary veena maestro Vidwan S. Balachander, all the way back in 1974. Forty years on, on the 29th of January, 2014, the Ustad took the stage with a disciple of Vidwan Balachander, veena stalwart, Vidushi Dr. Jayanthi Kumaresh and together delivered a performance that could easily last another forty years in memory for its sublime skill, co-ordination and most importantly, beauty.

Illusion of Pure Sound feat. Jayanthi Kumaresh, Zakir Hussain at Chowdaiah Memorial

The event was titled ‘Illusion of Pure Sound’ by event organisers Twaang in Concert, who are also the makers of one of the largest music library app Twaang that promotes Indian Classical music among other non-film music to over 60,000 users globally. By the end of the concert, the audience would come to realise that this was one of those rare situations where a classical event was named aptly.

Twenty minutes off the intended start time after the organizer promo and the introduction of the artistes by the MC, the curtains opened to a glittering view of the artistes on stage – Vid Jayanthi Kumaresh seated centrally and flanked by the Ustad to her right and Trichy Krishnan on the Talam, to her left. Vid Jayanthi started off with a relaxed and downtempo alapana of the evening raga Kamavardhini while also enjoying the freedom to drift into the Hindustani raga Puriya Dhanashree wherever poignant. While it was disheartening to see people still trickling into the auditorium well past 7PM, those already seated were riveted silent with attention to the subtle and soulful treatment of the raga.

Illusion of Pure Sound feat. Jayanthi Kumaresh, Zakir Hussain at Chowdaiah Memorial

After the alapana, Vid Jayanthi began with a rendition of a Saint Thyagaraja composition, ‘Shiva Shiva Shiva Yana Rada‘ set to Aditalam (Teen Taal) and the Ustad weaved in and out of the intricate sonic patterns within the composition with extraordinary ease. Owing to no other melodic instrument present (Spoiler alert: there actually was), Vid Jayanthi performed kalpanaswaras to the chorus (pallavi) on her own highlighted by myriad variations within one measure of 8 beats (one avarthana) while Ustad Zakir Hussain demonstrated his renowned musicianship by following her lead and accentuating phrases at the right places. The artistes were in perfect sync as was evident from the air-tight stops and control of the volume, especially in the mukthaya towards the end where a crescendo finish awaited the euphoric audience.

The Ustad had mentioned in an interview prior that he’ll strictly be an accompanist to Vid Jayanthi and throughout the show he stayed true to his word, allowing the vainika to take the lead, which she did in their second piece of the evening through a touching alapana in the carnatic raga Nattai Kurinji (a variation of the Mixolydian mode), complete with natural movements resembling the flutter of butterfly wings and displaying an astounding control over the vibrato. The manner in which Vid Jayanthi had treated and moved notes around had glimpses of the playing style of her uncle, the late violin legend Vidwan Lalgudi G. Jayaraman.

Illusion of Pure Sound feat. Jayanthi Kumaresh, Zakir Hussain at Chowdaiah Memorial

She then proceeded to a rendition of Muthuswami Dikshithar’s krithi ‘Parvati Kumaram Bhavaye’ in Rupaka Tala while she allowed plenty of pockets for the Ustad to improvise in. More than a leader-follower relation as normally is the case in conventional Carnatic, the music exhibited a relation between two close friends in a very intimate conversation. Another neat surprise was in store, as the composition switched from having 4 notes per beat, to 5 (khandagati) and the shift was masterfully seamless. An explosive improv section followed where a mukthaya again built up to what seemed like the end, before segueing to what the audience had waited for – a Zakir Hussain thaniavarthanam.

The Ustad took his time with his solo and infused it with a storyline of sorts by introducing characters in the form of recognizable phrases. The audience present among whom were noted percussionists Vid Ghatam Giridhar Udupa and Vid Arun Kumar, distinguished flautists Pt RavichandraKulur and Pt Pravin Godkhindi and dynamic violinist duo Vid Ganesh and Vid Kumaresh, ‘ooh’ed and ‘aah’ed at not only the energetic and speedy sections, but also at the sheer fluidity of the story through its climaxes and anti-climaxes. A brisk mukthaya brought the second piece to its conclusion, amid a tumultuous applause.

Illusion of Pure Sound feat. Jayanthi Kumaresh, Zakir Hussain at Chowdaiah Memorial

The central piece of the concert was a conventional Carnatic Ragam-Tanam-Pallavi. Vid Jayanthi rendered an alapana in the raga Keeravani (Kiravan in Hindustani or the equivalent of Harmonic Minor scale) and caressed it with her grace and elegance. Space and time seemed to stop by and take notice as she made the raga her own and the audience acknowledged a moment of dexterity as she produced sounds of ripples on the veena by only using her left hand. More than a focus on speed, Vid Jayanthi successfully produced an illusion of the sound coming in from many directions and from all possible distances. The audience made their admiration known and she took their ovation as a cue to adeptly drift into a tanam of increasing tempo, where she made use of rhythms commonly observed in nature like the gait of horses, frogs and elephants.

The highlight of the composition that followed in Adi Tala was a rare jugalbandi between the veena and the tabla which had taken the role of the second melodic instrument as the Ustad effortlessly churned out Keeravani phrases (we’re still talking about the tabla here) in responses to the ones Vid Jayanthi had raised and like the previous piece, a very elaborate mukthaya peppered with precise rhythmic co-ordinations and movements ended the song on a high note before proceeding to another Zakir Hussain tabla solo.

Illusion of Pure Sound feat. Jayanthi Kumaresh, Zakir Hussain at Chowdaiah Memorial

The second tabla solo of the evening had it all. If Vid Jayanthi’s alapanas provided an illusion of space, the Ustad’s gave an illusion of multiplicity. Complete with multiple rhythms, grooves, phrases, a sotte voce bassline and audaciously an improvisation section all running simultaneously, the solo evoked gasps from the audience who struggled to believe that a single tabla set was the source. Even within these sounds, the maestro had the time and the temerity to mimic the Doppler Effect and to be versatile enough to adopt a very classical mridangam style too. If there was still any doubt that the audience were witnessing one of the greatest percussionists of all time in his element, that was erased somewhere in the middle of that grand solo. After a pulsating end, the artistes acknowledged the standing ovation that lasted for a good minute and a half.

The encore performance was a Behag thillana in tisragati (3 notes per beat) in Aditala and despite it being the last piece of the show, the artistes did not let the level of the performance drop and the crowd recognized and appreciated their devotion.

It was important to know that in addition to the pure love and devotion to the instruments that the artistes had, both had perfect posture and efficient techniques which are some reasons why they keep getting better with age. There is no doubt that despite their success and longevity in the field, the effects of daily, dedicated practice is very visible in their playing. But in the light of the night’s events, none of the artistes sacrificed soul for speed, beauty for technique.

The organisation of the event was expertly done and there will be an anxious wait for Twaang in Concert’s next event. Makers of a classical music library app stepping out of their conventional line of work to organise such unique events is a huge step in the right direction for Indian Classical music.

Lastly, despite the event headlined by two worldwide acclaimed artistes, there never was a moment where it felt like a competition; such was the humility and integrity that they had carried themselves with.

No one but music was the big winner of the night.

Ganesh Viswanathan

Ganesh Viswanathan is a musician, a designer and sometimes both at the same time. Caffeine is known to derive its energising properties from him. Nobody knows the exact moment when he dismantles an idle mobile phone or steals food from another plate.

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Yamini – From Dusk to Dawn

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While a huge chunk of the junta was relieved to see a midweek holiday on the occasion of Republic Day, Spicmacay occupied themselves by organizing their annual event, the dusk-to-dawn musical event heading into the early hours of 26th Jan. They call this event Yamini and the previous editions were graced by stalwarts like the Late Pt. Bhimsen Joshi, Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia, Bombay Jayashri, Pt. Ronu Majumdar, Kadri Gopalnath and Pt. Vishwa Mohan Bhatt.

IIM Bangalore’s open air theatre was the venue for the stellar set of events lined up on the evening of the 25th. The stage setting was above average; the refreshing smell of wet grass had some obnoxious patches of heavily burning wood. Mattresses with blankets were spread in front of the stage anticipating a cold Bangalore night. People who preferred the conventional plastic chair medium for resting their tashreef were thrown further out in the back. The event didn’t start on time, but the delay was forgivable; people did not turn up in large numbers for it to start on time either. The first of the five events – a Hindustani vocal performance by Vidushi Padma Talwalkar, who was trained in the Gwalior, the Kirana and the Jaipur gharanas – started promptly after the routine lighting of the lamp and the intros. And then it began…

… with a bandish rendered in Raga Yaman, the words faintly recognizable as “Ke sakhi kaise kariye. The vilambit (slower portion of the song) started off slowly, which was probably the intention, the raga chosen also seemed perfect to welcome the audience and wean them into the mehfil. However, the burning wood at the back, which was part of the stage setting blew onto the stage and annoyed the artiste. The MC responded by running out to avert the crisis! Back to the music, and it was still to alter pace almost sounding like a traditional slow Indian wedding song.

Accompanied by Vishwanath Nakor on the tabla, Vyasmurthy Katti on the harmonium and her protégé as a vocal accompaniment (who managed to enunciate better), the artiste then went on to the drut(faster tempo) where she was able to demonstrate her accuracy with the notes; there was one grudge however, the taal wasn’t mentioned so sections of the audience were bewildered where the verse of the drut actually began. She continued onto another raga, Durga wherein she followed the same pattern viz. alaap-vilambit-drut. The third song was rendered in a raga that resembled a cross between Khamaj and Maand, however it was disappointing that the artiste did not mention the names, despite her mastery over the swaras. She seemed at ease throughout the show (too easy perhaps), maybe she was making the whole performance look effortless, but the music lacked lustre for sure. The accompaniments did not steal the show either. A fourth song in an unknown raga concluded the show, but it was clear that the variation among the ragas was missing.

Summing up, this Hindustani vocal performance was a joy at times when the accuracy in the notes was seen. Variations in the melody were far and few, the clarity in lyrics was overlooked and the troupe on stage looked disjointed. One thing that might have changed the monotony was trying out a raga from a radically different thaat (raga family). It was not as if the samay (time) was a factor against performing certain ragas; Durga is a late night raga. The performance overall, was good, but it wasn’t spectacular in any way.

In the first instrumental and carnatic gig of the evening, the violin duo Ganesh and Kumaresh maybe didn’t openly recognize that Yamini needed a lift, but they did take the pain of carefully announcing what was in store, something that the previous artiste only briefly took interest in.

The gig started off with a raga pravesham (non-lyrical composition) in Raga Mayamalavagowla which was expertly performed and would have done justice to any gig as the opening song. The whole unit on the stage seemed to be telepathically connected, maybe it was well-planned or spontaneous, but it was a joy to behold as they went on to perform two more raga praveshams in the ragas Reethi Gowlai and Nalina Kanthi.

The distinguishing feature of the duo was that they were collaborative, competitive and that they complemented each other. While Ganesh would play the higher notes, thereby creating the portion of music that floated above all the other parts, Kumaresh was adept at providing the appropriate vehicle with very well-thought of bass notes. They also continued each other’s pieces, like two close friends knowing what is exactly on the other’s mind. They soloed at will, each solo better than the previous, the audience looked on with awe at each violinist, as if they were in an extremely slow tennis match. The tones of the violins differed slightly; by the middle of the first song a person could close his eyes and tell which one is playing. Moreover, this wasn’t completely a Carnatic concert per se. The artistes ventured outside their niche, creating a new one of their own and incorporated western techniques into their music. Traditional Carnatic listeners were stunned as Ganesh threw a dive-bomb in agamaka, Kumaresh rounded off another mini-crescendo to which the audience applauded thinking that the song was over; later Ganesh tapped notes in a non-Carnatic style while Kumaresh responded with a harmonic equivalent. The note progressions were visibly similar to western compositions.

A ragam-tanam-pallavi in the raga Dharamavati followed, and this was the focal point of the entire concert. The artistes formed pairs with one percussionist each and then exchanged players in the middle of the song providing a different experience with the sound each time. It was fascinating to see the main artistes take a back seat as the percussionists demonstrated their skill with a superb jugalbandi. The artistes rounded up the spectacular show with two more pieces, the first one in Kapi raga which featured Ganesh doing the vocals and the final piece, a fast-paced thillana in Bahudaari.

P. Unnikrishnan was next to set the stage alight; he started off with a traditional varnam in the raga Saveri preceded by a raga alaapana.The varnam was beautifully paced with a lot of emphasis on the lyrics of the song, something which the previous vocalist of the evening failed to highlight. In each subsequent number, you could see the two percussionists – Ghatam Giridhar Udupa and Arjun Kumar on the mridangam – engage in mini-jugalbandis, like two kids up to a lot of mischief. On the violin, HK Venkataraman showed his dexterity with well-timed notes to add weight to the vocalist’s fine voice. The varnam was followed by a piece, ‘Shambo Mahadeva in raga Panthuvarali, in tribute to the popular composer Thyagaraja Swamigal, who had entered samadhi at this time of the year, about 200 years ago. This was followed by another Thyagaraja composition, Nadaloludai’  in the raga Kalyana Vasantham. Both were brilliantly rendered, especially the former wherein the artiste incorporated aneraval (verse improv) and a kalpana swaram (note scat-jam).

The gig progressed onto Unni performing his central piece, ‘Koluva Maragatha’ in the raga Hanumatodi. The raga is known to be very difficult to perform, the very reason why it is chosen by master artistes to  be performed in kutcheries. Unnikrishnan was able to bring out the very flavour of the raga in the alaapana; the violinist followed that up with a virtuoso piece himself. Unni then started off unconventionally with the anupallavi (verse) rather than the pallavi (chorus). A neraval and akalpana swaram (in which the artiste made superb use of the divisions) in two tempos was the artiste’s finishing touch to the song before the instruments took centre stage. Ghatam Udupa and Arjun Kumar engaged in an epic jugalbandi that blew the audience away. Mesmerizing stuff!

After ‘Koluva Maragatha’, Unni picked himself to perform his much-loved rendition of ‘Pibare Ramarasamin the raga Ahirr Bhairavi followed by a Senjuruti krithi, ‘Rara Chinnanna Rarori Balakrishna, in which he caressed the audience to a dreamy state. A few more krithis and the aristes bowed on stage to be greeted by a standing ovation from the crowd. At times Unni, ‘reluctant’ to open his mouth to sing seemed conservative, but effortless. There was no doubting the fact that the artiste was in a state of flow throughout the performance. The accompaniments were superb and it must have taken some thought to putting this troupe together because their styles blended in perfectly. Overall, this was a spectacular show; despite Unni barely hitting second gear.

A kuchipudi performance provided a brief respite to those who had come there only for the music. The organisers did take the gamble of losing numbers in the crowd by scheduling the popular Ustad Shahid Parvez Khan performance at 3 a.m. The numbers were there however; everyone felt proud and enthusiastic at turning up at that time for the gig. Not a single soul on the chairs at the back; everyone found their places on the mattress.

The Ustad carries the legacy of being another product of a family that has produced some of India’s greatest Sitar players in history including the likes of Ustad Sahabdad Khan, Ustad Imdad Khan (his great grandfather), Ustad Wahid Khan (his grandfather) and Ustad Vilayat Khan. So it was natural that the crowd was very anxious when the Ustad coolly took the stage and took his time setting up his instrument. He wore a relaxed expression on his face as he meticulously tuned his elaborate sitar. No one in the audience dared indulge in useless banter even when the Ustad prepared his sitar, for the fear of missing out on the start of the performance.

The artiste who belonged to Etawah Gharana, then promptly announced what was in store, with a smile. He appropriately chose Miyaan ki Todi as his first raga and then took the audience on a journey through the stars with a superb alaap. Some of the audience felt it necessary to recline and observe the fast moving clouds in the dark orange sky while the Ustad went on to a faster version of the alaap viz. the jod. Witnessing nature itself altering its pace to keep up with the music was a heavenly experience.

The vilambit was rendered in teen taal and the Ustad’s mastery over the notes and the raga improvisations were simply superb. The audience surrendered themselves at such a powerful manifestation of music and when they were still lolling their heads, the Ustad went onto the madhayama and the drut. There was a deafening applause from even the reclining audience as the Sultan rounded off the piece.

The composition ‘Babul Mora Naihar Chhuto hi Jaayein raga Bhairavi which was similar in structure to the previous song was extraordinarily performed. The tabla player provided superb support and exchanged appreciations with the Ustad after each of them finished off mindblowing parts. It was fitting that the sky began to lighten up as the artistes looked to round up their performance. If there was any Indian classical instrument that had to welcome the morning sun, the Ustad advocated the case of the Sitar very well.

On the whole, the event was fabulous and a lovely experience. Kudos to Spicmacay!

Ganesh Viswanathan

Ganesh Viswanathan is a musician, a designer and sometimes both at the same time. Caffeine is known to derive its energising properties from him. Nobody knows the exact moment when he dismantles an idle mobile phone or steals food from another plate.

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