Mysore Nagaraj and Manjunath, sons of the renowned violinist Mahadevappa, confess that it is tough to elicit an appreciation from their father
Mysore Brothers – a name that has become synonymous with violin are not new to adoration and appreciation. These maestros of violin, hailed as the “princes” of Mysore by none other than Pt. Ravi Shankar were recently awarded “Sangeeta Vedanta Dhureena” by Rama Lalitha Kala Mandira. Their impeccable musical virtuosity not withstanding it is their congenial nature and beguiling charm that has endeared them to the hearts of several admirers all over the world. From the Royal Albert Hall to the International violin conference in San Diego, they have represented the rich repertoire of Carnatic music, carving a niche for themselves as one of the most celebrated duos of India. Mysore Nagraj and Mysore Manjunath share their story as well as their vision.
Your father was pivotal in nurturing the artist within you. How was he as a teacher?
He was a tough task master and to this day is our best critic. I have to confess that we have not been able to elicit from him the appreciation that everyone else shower on us. He pays attention to small details of of our performance and always has pointers on how to improve. For the rest of the world, we may be maestros but for him, we are always learners and we prefer that he treats us so. It was his teaching that has brought us to where we are now.
When my father happened to hear a rather disparaging remark about artists from Karnataka by a famous musician, he vowed to groom his sons as musicians whom the world would take cognizance of and appreciate our state’s rich contribution to the field of music. We are the result of his persistent efforts to fulfil the vow he made several years ago.
Violin was predominantly seen as an accompaniment. What were the challenges you faced in bringing it to the forefront of a concert?
Not only was violin treated as an accompaniment, it was a foreign instrument. Inspite of the adaptations done to suit the Carnatic music genre, it was quite inconceivable that violin could be used to conduct solo instrumental kutcheris. Even as children, we had accompanied great artists such as DKP, Dr. M. Balamuralikrishna and several others and won rave admiration from them and public, but that did not satisfy our urge to display the inherent potential of the instrument.
Hence we had to venture out of the comfort zone and start exploring avenues such as different styles and techniques including Hindustani and western music. Nevertheless, our father had honed us so well in the Carnatic tradition that we never lost ground. Eventually, the public started enjoying the variety and innovation we brought forth.
What has your experience been like in presenting Carnatic performance on violin in a western concert?
It has always been an interesting experience. We have performed in various platforms ranging from Rock Music Festivals in Europe to classical jazz. We had to ensure that the presentation meets the general mood of the concert. But the reception by the audience was exhilarating. Generally instrumentalists in West have elaborate notes that they refer during their performance which was conspicuously missing from ours. They were amazed at our extemporaneous renditions. We have always maintained that, our Indian classical music provides that capability to any musician.
Your thoughts on the relevance of traditional instrumental music in the current atmosphere where popular demand is for mass entertainment?
To be honest, it is one of grave concern. Unlike the Hindustani genre, where we can still see the prominence given to various instrumental music and musicians all over the world, Carnatic tradition seems to suffer from a state of dire negligence. We have an invaluable musical wealth bestowed on us, but we have mired it with our negligence and complacency. Instruments such as veena are vanishing rapidly. People seem to care more for renditions of popular krithis only. We may have played a brilliant and elaborate raga or ragamalika, but we are usually lauded for a popular composition that was played. They are more drawn to captivating fusion performances or fast renditions rather than pure classical exposition of the intricacies of say Harikamboji or Kharaharapriya. Academically there is need for research into various practical innovations on the instruments of Carnatic tradition.
One of the biggest challenges for anyone wanting to pursue music as career is earning their livelihood. Especially instrumentalists face an uphill task of establishing themselves professionally let alone earn reputation and fame. To this end, we are planning to establish a school of instrumental music in Bangalore where our priority would be to revive the grandeur of the traditional instruments and create capable instrumentalists who can carve a niche for themselves.
What do you suggest as a fix for the lack of discernment about quality music among public at large?
There is a time tested method; one that we have seen work in our own house - having informal music discourses and demonstrations in our homes. Since our childhood days, once a week, our house would host a musician who would give a talk. These days though we have lecture demonstrations they are far and between, held only in large auditoriums with sparse attendance.
There is a certain intimacy that is established with the art form when such talks are held in our homes. There are several musicians living in our midst. If our community comes together to organise such meetings, it will provide a platform for these musicians to share their knowledge as well as inculcate a genuine interest in people about classical music.