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CCC May 2017 event review by Sashwat Mahalingam

posted Jul 31, 2017, 12:30 PM by CCC Editor   [ updated Jul 31, 2017, 12:36 PM ]

CCC May 2017 - as reviewed by Sashwat Mahalingam:


A variety of music schools express the art form of Carnatic Music through various different padantharams and styles of rendition. Though it is difficult to make a clear and straightforward explanation of what each padantharam is exactly comprised of, one can notice that each school/style adheres to a set of disciplines and qualities each student is expected to live up to. This is analogous to the primary artist/legend/maestro each school sprouts from. A common theme in Carnatic Music explored, discussed, and observed by many Carnatic musicians and rasikas alike is the balance between tradition and modernity/creativity. This theme is of significant importance in this generation specifically because of how our music has evolved over time, while also trying to maintain its traditional values it stands for. The students of our generation are presented with the challenge of balancing our creativity and ideas with this traditional aspect of music. Many strive and succeed to do so. This harmony of aesthetic quality and traditional value was no better demonstrated here in the Bay Area than in CCC of May 2017. Each performer attempted to bring in their own creativity while also keeping up to the standards of theirpadantharam.

            The event began with a performance by Ambika Ramadurai on vocal, accompanied by Srishiva Manikantan on the violin and Sachin Venkat on the mridangam. Ambika began with a varnam in Suddha Dhanyasi, Sri Raja Mathangi, set to Adi Talam, composed by H.N. Muthiah Bhagavathar. This was followed by an auspicious multi-raga viruttam on Saraswathi, ending in the ragam Arabhi. Ambika brought out the classic Arabhi phrases in this viruttam while also embellishing it with her creativity and leaving the audience in suspense and anticipation of what is to come next. Srishiva followed this up with a 1 minute, crisp yet pure rendition of Arabhi on the violin. This was followed by Dikshitar’s composition Sri Saraswathi, set to Rupaka Talam. Ambika maintained an appropriate pace through the rendition that helped emphasize the ragam’s most unique and identifiable phrases of Arabhi while also keeping the audience “in-sync”. Srishiva took care to highlight the weighty Arabhi phrases as well. Finally, Sachin Venkat displayed a huge leap and improvement from his previous accompaniments, bringing his confidence as well as musical understanding to the fore while playing.

            Following Ambika’s auspicious performance was a recital by Kriti Iyer, accompanied by Apurvaa Anand on the violin and Shreyas Garimella on the mridangam. Kriti began with a compact viruttam in the ragam Ranjani, where in such a short amount of time, she displayed the entire scope of the ragam, covering all octaves while adding her own quick and rigorous phrases as a form of creativity. Apurvaa mirrored this with a Ranjani alapana balancing canonicity and talent at the same time, using fast/complex phrases as well as bringing out the bhava-laden, traditional aspect of Ranjani established by maestros of the past. This was followed by GNB’s Ranjani Ni Ranjani, set to Adi Talam. In addition to taking the rendition at a rather quick pace, Kriti further challenged herself by taking quick-paced swarams on the pallavi. In her swarams, Kriti emphasized an extensive use of sarvalaghu patterns and phrases, which  Apurvaa took to mirroring while also bringing in a rich and satisfying flavor of bhavam. Shreyas provided appropriate and methodical accompaniment to the stage, highlighting the right moments and toning up/down wherever necessary,

            Following Kriti’s brisk performance was a performance by Rahul Swaminathan, accompanied by Aishwarya Anand on the violin and Avinash Anand on the mridangam. Rahul began with an energetic alapana in Gambheera Nattai. Throughout alapana, Rahul’s bubbliness was apparent in his use of wavy ragam phrases (such as gmpnsg,,s,,,,) and extensive brigas. Aishwarya’s response was equally appropriate in combining the use of commonly heard phrases in Gambheera Nattai songs with her skillful rendition on the violin. Following this, Rahul proceeded to Saint Tyagaraja’s well-known composition Ninne Bhajana, set to Rettakalai Adi Talam. The rendition was lively as the pacing in balance with the phrases emphasized allowed the ragam’s energetic mood to be brought out yet again, especially in the anupallavi, which contained at least TWELVE different sangathis. Rahul then took swarams on the anucharanam,

“seeta nAtha sakala lOka pAlaka.” The energetic and Semmangudi-like punches in the sarvalaghu patterns was an especially appealing aspect as it brought out the true, bold nature of the ragam, while also combining creative kanakku and porutham. Rahul then did a short koraippu with a further gradual kanakku pattern similar to the structure of the line he was singing swarams on, followed by a crisp yet rhythmically well-thought-out samam-to-edam korvai. Throughout the manodharmam essay, Aishwarya caught every last sarvalaghu pattern while also making an emphasis on a ragam-based approach compatible to Rahul’s approach. Avinash’s unique approach to accompaniment on the mridangam helped fulfill the energetic as well as the auspicious aspect of the song Tyagaraja intended to put in. His synergy with Rahul stayed strong till the very end, including a nice mohra-korvai.      

Following Rahul’s energetic performance was a performance by Shivani Venkatramanan, accompanied by Ananya Devanath on the veena and Vishal Setlur on the mridangam. Shivani begin with a dynamic alapana in Simhendra Madhyamam. In her alapana, Shivani demonstrated her extremely flexible voice as well as the bhavam-related aspect of the ragam, bringing out the somewhat balanced ragam moods of both feeling and energy. Shivani also took the added challenge of graha bhedam in Bowli. Graha bhedam in a way is analogous to the tradition vs. creativity/modernity balance as one is required to intuitively and creatively shift a ragam’s tonic scale to produce a new ragam, while at the same time not deviating from the structure and sancharas of the original ragam. Hence, this challenge was delivered extremely well, receiving a well-deserved applause from the rasikas. Ananya’s follow-up was equally scintillating with the use of brigas and complex phrases to show the ragam’s true scope in such a short time. She also took on the graha bhedam challenge with equal skill and determination, and produced an effect similar to that of Shivani’s. Following this was Dikshitar’s composition NilachalanAtham bhajEhamset to Adi Talam. She then proceeded to swarams on the madhyamakalam, which although on the samam is still a challenge given how little room there is for breath. Shivani also took a challenge of including mEl kAlam tisram swarams in her kalpanaswarams, followed up by a koraippu and a simple but elegant korvai to top it off. Ananya responded to all these challenges with equal sarvalaghu originality and appeal. Throughout the performance, Vishal kept up a befitting, kinetic accompaniment to the rather quick-paced nature of the song, and even played a nice complex tirmanam at the end.

Following Shivani’s challenging performance was a performance by Prisha Balan on

vocal, Prahlad Saravanapriyan on violin, and Akshay Suresh on mridangam. Prisha rendered Tyagaraja’s composition in Bhairavi, Lalithe, set to Adi Talam. For being a first time taking the CCC stage, Prisha displayed an extreme amount of confidence. Her rendition was filled with azhagu and gave the effect of a swaying/smooth style of singing. Prahlad enhanced the bhavam of the song highlighting the most exquisite of Bhairavi phrases with his playing of the violin. Akshay Suresh made an enhancement to the performance with his confident and mature mridangam playing, especially for it being a first time on the CCC stage. The combined team effort made the entire performance a huge success.

            Following Prisha’s smooth rendition was a performance by Shruthi Jaganathan, accompanied by Omsri Bharat on the veena and Santhosh Ravindrabharathy on the mridangam. Shruthi began with an alapana in the ragam Dharmavathi, a not very commonly heard ragam next to its neighboring ragam Hemavati. Given how very few compositions exist in the ragam, most of the scope comes from the artist’s own creativity and intuition. Taking this challenge, Shruthi brought a whole dimension of her interpretation of the ragam in her alapana, displaying a surplus of originality and some use of phrases found in Dharmavathi compositions. Omsri made an equally creative effort on the veena of this uncommon ragam, showing a high level of skill in both playing the difficult instrument and taking up an uncommon ragam on it. Following these intuitive essays was a composition of Mysore Vasudevacharya, Bhajanaseya Radha, set to Rupaka Talam. Shruthi then proceeded to niraval and swaram on niravathi sukha dayakuni, the anucharanam line. Shruthi’s niraval followed an interesting, gradual build-up style, where each succeeding time she’d elaborate on a larger and larger scope to keep the audience engaged. Shruthi’s swarams following this included some nice classic kanakku as well as intricate patterns and phrases that clearly affirmed the ragam as Dharmavathi, following a canonical and traditional style. This was followed by a koraippu and edam-to-edam korvai. Omsri’s mirror to these forms of manodharmam provided a whole new dimension of melody, especially given that instead of the violin, the approach was taken on a veena. Santhosh’s mridangam playing kept the song at a brisk mood and kept the audience wowing and up on their feet expecting the next idea to come up. He included a nice mohra-korvai at the end of the song following various patterns of 3.

            Following Shruthi’s unique performance was a performance by Vishaka Ashok on the vocal, Alaap Rag on the violin, and Vivek Arvind on the mridangam. Vishaka began with the daunting Kadanakuthuhalam varnam composed by Calcutta Krishnamoorthy, set to Adi Talam. Kadanakuthuhalam itself follows an extreme level of vakra and incomplete structure, making its navigation rather “skippy” and challenging to try out. Vishaka proved her skill by rendering the entire varnam inn 2nd speed, displaying her mastery of such a complex ragam while keeping the audience stupefied and smiling. Following this was Sri Guruguha Moorthe, a composition of Dikshitar in ragam Udayaravichandrika, set to Rupaka Talam. Vishaka’s magnetic voice, combined with her outstanding impression of the emotional magnetism of this ragam, made this rendition touching and enjoyable. For being a first-timer on violin, Alaap stood up to both the Kadanakuthuhalam and Udayaravichandrika challenges well, highlighting the key phrases of each while adding a bit of extra flavor to each unique phrase that came by. Vivek’s bold yet flexible accompaniment complemented Vishaka’s singing, and his involvement was clear in how he showed on stage that he really seemed to be enjoying the moment as it lasted.

            Following Vishaka’s enchanting performance was a performance by Sumedh Vaidyanathan on the vocal, Aditya Satyadeep on the violin, and Pranav Tirumalai on the mridangam. Sumedh began with a bold alapana in the ragam Shanmugapriya. Like Sumadyuti, Shanmugapriya is the type of ragam where it lies in a central part of a spectrum of energy to bhavam-filled; it sort of balances energy and bhavam together. Sumedh, in his alapana, managed to achieve the balance, through the use of both classic yet still appealing phrases as well as creative ideas. An example of a creative idea he implemented was swaram skipping, where for a stretch of time he worked with only the swarams N, R, G, M, and D, creating elaborate patterns that added an intuitive aspect to his alapana. Following this was Aditya’s response, where he chose to highlight a more bhavam-filled, classic version of Shanmugapriya, combining a few of Sumedh’s ideas as well as bringing his own interpretation of this vast ragam. Following this was marivErE dikkevarayya rAmA, Patnam Subramanya Iyer’s composition set to Deshadi Talam. Given that so many variations of this song exist due to its popularity, Sumedh’s version  (from the Sri Paduka/NSG Padantharam) included various briga patterns and unique phrases one would hear rarely in the ragam. Sumedh’s bold and courageous voice helped to particularly develop this aspect. He then took the challenge of rapidfire, quick-paced swarams on Sanutanga Sri. His sarvalaghu patterns/swaram ideas were identifiable and creative, where he incorporated previous idea such as swaram skipping that made the manodharmam essay further enjoyable. Aditya’s mirror to this was an equally original bhavam-based conceptualization of swaram patterns, where he took care to make the most important phrases evident and pausing to let the right ones sink in. Throughout the performance, Pranav’s accompaniment reflected activity, spirit, and involvement as he added his unique touch to his playing while playing into the team effort that ultimately contributed to the performance’s success.

            Following Sumedh’s spirited performance was an informative Feature-a-Guru session by Sri. Ravindrabharathy Sridharan. The session was themed around how to extend our musical longevity. The presentation covered many important aspects of our musical planning and involvement, such as sadhagam, sravanam, visions, insight, humility, and long run expectations. The use of the iceberg analogy made a clear point: a small iceberg we see in the musical world is performance and surface-level practice, where we fail to see the aspects of practice and retrospection below sea level. The session was helpful to us students as it showed us what a true musician’s struggles and duties are, what he/she must expect to do, and what he/she must mentally commit to for a long period of time (or lifetime). This sort of retrospective, wholesome approach is what helps musicians get far as they take in the big picture, or the larger viewpoint, of the musical journey.

            After this session was a concluding performance by Shrikanth Shivakumar on the vocal, Aparna Thyagarajan on the violin, and Srivatsan Tennathur on the mridangam. Shrikanth began with an alapana in the ragam Chintamani, which by technical definition is Bhairavi with a prathi madhyamam. This rare ragam presents an intimidating and challenging aspect in two ways: A) its striking similarity to Bhairavi must not confuse the artist to be led into Bhairavi, and B) its rare and uncommon nature gives it a very small scope compared to its suddha madhyamam counterpart. Considering both these difficulties, Shrikanth’s alapana represented an extraordinary blend of melody, swiftness, and creativity. The Bhairavi-like phrases of the ragam he particularly emphasized, taking care not to accidentally introduce a suddha madhyamam in any place helped bring out his melody, while his overall raga approach was marked by smooth transitions and elaboration, large scopes of movement in the raga and navigation, and vadi-samvadi notes that create a harmonic appeal. His particularly versatile voice helped aid him in this well-rendered effort. Aparna’s reply to this on the violin was an equal mixture of skill and musical knowledge. Even in a short time, she managed to give a large and understandable scope of the ragam, and with her skillful playing executed complex, intricate, and quick ragam phrases that left the audience amazed and captivated. Following this, Shrikanth presented Syama Sastri’s composition, Devi Brova Samayamidhe, set to Rettakalai Adi Talam. For his manodharmam elaboration, Shrikanth did both niraval and swaram on the pallavi, an uncommon form of elaboration nowadays. Given the pallavi is usually given the most emphasis, variation, and elaboration in a krithi, it presents a wide scope of possibilities for manodharmam, all of which Shrikanth managed to bring out in his niraval and swarams. Aparna responded to this challenge with an equal display of musical understanding and intuition. Throughout this, Srivatsan’s synchronous and suitable accompaniment on the mridangam reflected much of his experience from vocal training as well as mridangam accompaniment. He particularly played a nice mohra-korvai in the end, with the korvai having a nice chatushram to tisram transition in each iteration.

            To conclude, each performance today represented a unique blend of creativity, tradition, musical knowledge, and a team effort. In guiding our generation on how to meet these standards of music, the first people to thank are the gurus and teachers, who not only teach us what and how to sing, but how to think like a musician, collaborate like musicians, and execute like musicians. Quoting a recent observation someone pointed out in a PowerPoint, “The musical community works in this wonderful ecosystem where everyone’s individual effort makes the result a success, and without one the system fails to work.” The next in this system are parents, whose constant energy, care, and drive help push their children to venture further into the musical journey and break through musical boundaries. The work of organizations such as CCC help to promote our efforts by giving us a chance to share our talents with each other and with the rest of the musical world, hence providing an avenue for us. Finally, the work of rasikas and patrons who come to constantly encourage and support kids such as the performers helps give us motivation to keep working harder and harder in the future. Best wishes to all the performers onstage today, and good luck to them for a bright musical future.