Concert Reviews - 2018

SIFAA Concert on 28th April 2018

Vid. Ramakrishnan Murthy (Vocal)
Smt. Charumathy Raghuraman (Violin)
Sri Manoj Siva (Mridangam)
Ms. Smriti Sridharan (Tambura)

Review by:- Rao Vadlamani
Inspired by Smt. Varuni Rav garu suggestion, here is a humble review of Saturday’s centenary concert of SIFAA by Sri Ramakrishna Murthy.

The whole week leading up to this concert is indeed special and auspicious, given that it started off with Adi ShankarAcharya jayanthi (vaIshAkha shuddha pancami) followed immediately by Saint Tyagaraja jayanthi, then Syama Sastri jayanthi and culminating in Nrusimha jayanthi. And, that probably perhaps was the reason why RKM had duly represented all the composers with excellent song selection as below.
List of songs:
1. Thodi varnam Composer: Patnam Subramanyam Iyer, Adi tALam 
2. Arabhi - cAlakalka - Alapana - Tyagaraja - fast paced swarams at pallavi 
3. Reetigowla – (sata) rAgaratna mAlikacE (rUpakam) - alApana - N&S at bhAgavatOttama
4. Devibrova - cintAmani - Syama sastry 
5. Mohana - alApana - narasimha agAchha - Dikshitar - S at vIrabaramOhanavibhAswara - taNi 
6. KamalAmanOhari - brief alApana - tAnam - pallavi - kanjadalayatAkshj kAmKshi kamalAmanOhari Tripura Sundari - 2 kAla adi tAlam - RAga mAlika - dEva manOhari - goUri manOhari
7. Ragamalika of Subramanian bharathy - Karnataka deva gandhari, behag and kanada 
8. Purandara dasa devaranama - jhinjhoti 
9. Mangalam - Ramachandraya janaka raja-ja-manOharAya – Bhadrachala Ramadasa composition
RKM’s concert at SIFAA in Morrisville, NC is indeed a treat to listen for Carnatic Music connoisseur. RKM brings to the table richness and purity on all the three important aspects of Carnatic music as mentioned by Saint tyAgaraja in endarO mahAnubhAvulu namely the rAgam, bhAvam and laya soUkhyam.
He has started off his concert with a majestic thOdi rAga varNam that he sang in two kAlams. After that he announced that he would sing Arabhi of Swati Tirunal which I thought would be Narasimha mAmava in view of the occasion (narasimha jayanthi), but after a brief alApana he said that change of heart and sang cAlakalla. From then it was a touch of heart to every rasika in the auditorium which was filled to its full capacity. The way he rendered cAlakalla after a beautiful alapana which Smt. Charumathi was equally adept at her in reply, his rendering reminded me of the great legend Semmangudi mAma. His swaram patterns were a treat to listen to.
Marking the occasion of SIFAA’s 100th concert, he went onto present Saint Tyagaraja’s 100th composition which is in rItigowla, “(Sata) rAga ratna mAlikacE ranjillunaTa hari”. After a beautiful alApana, he started off at Sata rAga ratna, and the Neraval at “bhAgavatOttamulu gUDi pADE kIrtanamulaTa” exemplified his control over the clarity of his diction and pronunciation in Telugu language which is NOT his mother tongue. In his previous visit, I remember asking him as to how he got the clarity of Telugu language in particular, and he smiled off saying “No Uncle”. I would attribute it to divine grace. After the rItigowLa he rendered one of the most beautiful compositions of Dikshitar on Lord Narasimha. Dikshitar is one composer who demands extreme discipline when you render his compositions. It is not to say the others do NOT but each composer brings his own specialty which is a different topic altogether. RKM has shown that extreme discipline while rendering this which is in Sanskrit and he was equally adept and at ease over the pronunciation of the lyrics. His concert is well planned and executed and had a bit of everything, no extra dosage of anything and nothing less either.
And, the RTP he took immediately after the main item is a good example of this aspect with the standard pallavi composition “kanjadaLAyatAkSi kAmAkSi kamalAmanOhari tripurasundari”. The RTP is full of manOharam. I was thinking for a moment, the garland of rAgas would probably include jaya manOhari, Isha manOhari etc. but he stopped there given the time constraints probably. What followed was such a beautiful composition of Subramanya Bharathi set to beautiful raga malika in Karnataka deva gandhari, kAnada and behag. A Purandara dasa dEvara nAma just added another emotive feeling to this majestic concert which he concluded by singing bhadrAcala rAmadas mangaLam which normally you would rarely see anyone sing now a days which was the trademark of Late Dr. MBK.
To me personally, RKM looks like mix/amalgamation of all the great legends like Semmangudi Mama as seen in the way the composition of Arabi in cAlakalla was rendered, or KVN or Dr. MBK for the creativity of swarams as seen in the fast paced swarams in the same composition. The point to note is he doesn’t seem to stick to a particular bAni or school but dwells into the richness that the yester year legends have and at the same time evolving into his own style and that makes him special and unique.
A word or two about accompaniment artists. Smt. Charumathy on violin and Sri Manoj Siva played perfect foil to RKM as accompanying artistes. Smt. Charumathy for her part demonstrated what an accompanying artist should do. Never showing the intent to dominate but doing everything in the right proportion which is typical of her guru and legend Sri Prof. TNK. She is already the most sought after artistes for Violin in Chennai music circles. On Mridangam, I for one particularly liked Sri Manoj Siva’s soft and delicate touches during the rAgamAlika rendering of Subramanya Bharathi in “Suttum vizhi sudar thAn Kannamma Suriye chandiraro” apart from the beautiful taNi during the main item in Misra chApu. Last but not the least, Ms. Smriti Sridharan an upcoming talent on Veena from local area did an exceptional job at putting Tambura.
At the end, we were treated to some good yummy sweets, candies and the spice (karam) as well But, the sweet and spice associated with the classicism of music transcended everything else and this concert would perhaps be remembered for a long-long time to come. This is perhaps the first time that I have seen for a SIFAA concert to have the auditorium filled to its capacity. Hopefully, it helped them get new/renewed members.
Thanks to SIFAA for bringing such a youthfully experienced or exuberant artiste (s) to the city. If you are not already a SIFAA member, consider becoming one as membership drives bringing such talented artistes is no understatement. I can tell you as an ex-board member of some of these organizations, membership is the key to running organizations and bringing such talented quality artists.
BTW, please don’t miss yet another upcoming talented young artist in Ramana Balachandhran on June 3rd. May Lord Narasimha bless us all with such melodious music from SIFAA for the years to come.


Concert Review of Dr. Narmada (March 23, 2018) - Copied from and edited to fit the format.

Auspices of Duke Sangeet, ICMDS, and SIFAA
Duke University, Review by Bilahari

Dr. M. Narmadha - violin
Sri Vijay Ganesh - mrudangam
Sri Chandrasekara Sharma - ghaTam

Dr. Narmadha and her team presented a superlative concert at Duke University this evening. The concert began with an MSG classic in his memory, the sAvEri varNam, played immaculately in two speeds primarily on the A string. The sAranga kriti was a sprightly invocation and had beautiful swaras highlighting both madhyamams. Sara sAmadAna was one of the highlights of the evening; Dr. Narmadha announced it as a tribute to the late MMI, and it was truly reminiscent of his verve. The alapanai had an interesting structure combining short, staccato phrases with longer passages with deep glides. The swaras were measured but had beautiful poruttam. Raguvamsa sudA is an instrumental favourite, and was an electrifying presentation as expected. MalayamArutam was a refreshing choice for submain, and was another highlight of the concert. The alapanai was expansive in three octaves and without gimmicks, leading into a bhAva-laden rendition of the T kriti, with a very Parur-esque tAnam in two speeds with great use of the tAnam bow. BOgIndrasAyinam was ever so sweet and announced as a tribute to SSI. The RTP was a grand affair. The latAngi alapanai stretched past the atitAra stAyi, but with supreme clarity, and offered great insight into the ragam. The tAnam was played in both the CM and HM styles with flat madhyamams and nishAdams along with plain note sequences marking the HM version, with alternating accompaniment by Sri Vijay Ganesh and Sri Chandrasekara Sharma. The pallavi was beautiful, and had an elaborate trikAlam and tiSram. The choice of ragamaliga swaras was spot on, and I especially enjoyed the kEdAragowLa, which started evocatively in the upper octave. The post-tani items were all played immaculately. The dwijAvanti was my request, and played movingly with a sketch that had many patterns of the kriti to follow. I also really enjoyed the touching rendition of vaiSnava janatO. 

The concert was a resounding success for so many reasons. Dr. Narmadha's technical prowess is truly astounding, and very much reminiscent of MSG, whose violin she played with tonight. I think the sheer nonchalance with which the likes of MSG/Narmadha play often underestimates the complexities and technical challenges of their art. The very ability to produce a bright and even tone with the bow is such a rare find, and Dr. Narmadha's control over the bow tonight was astonishing. She used the full length of it, used bouncing and cut bowing techniques with ease, and produced a stellar tone. In particular, her kArvais, where she slowed her bowing down significantly while retaining a beautiful tone was very admirable. Similarly, I admire the MSG school for its clarity in gamakas, with very accurate fingering, and that was on full display tonight. The rapid playing of anuswaras and janTa phrases often requires at least some element of approximation or obfuscation, but anyone who plays the violin knows that it takes so much practice to get the swara stAnas right in these fast phrases, and they were unfailingly right tonight. I think Dr. Narmadha's music is much more than technical aptitude, though. She brought tonight the minimalism of her style, with ample silences, careful choice of gamakas and vibrato, and eschewed the gimmicks that some people resort to as a display of the 'Parur bani'. There were no endless displays of S-P-S phrases, prolonged passages of mechanical cut-bowing swaras, and octave-to-octave runs. Instead, her sense of aesthetics sculpted this concert into a true work of art, with each kriti chosen thoughtfully and played ever so lovingly, with her singing sometimes to herself and sometimes to us, clearly wrapped in her own music as it enveloped us as well. I admire MSG's solos for his pure, beautiful sarvalagu in swaras, and almost always some passages of intelligent tiSram, and that was on display tonight as well. The kApi nArAyaNi and malayamArutam swaras were just spot on. 

Of course, the concert was amply elevated by the excellent percussion. I thought Sri Vijay Ganesh and Sri Chandrasekara Sharma did an extraordinary job tonight. They were active and sensitive in their accompaniment, offering generous moments of silence, but also playing with great anticipation for the swaras, and very appropriately for all the kritis. Their accompaniment for the pallavi was a highlight of the evening. I especially enjoyed Sri Vijay Ganesh's generosity in giving Sri Chandrasekara Sharma many opportunities, even in kritis, to play alone, and I was struck by the clarity of both percussionists today. The tani was lively and very engaging. 

Thank you to all the organizers and a very attentive and receptive audience.