Bharat Sangeet Utsav’s contemporary classical concert brought together poet-saint Tyagaraja and maestro Ilaiayaraja

The Chinese goddess of silk met Andal in ‘The Story of Silk’. Another day, saint-composer Tyagaraja from Thiruvaarur shook hands with Ilaiyaraaja, the self-taught genius from Pannayapuram. These two concerts, part of Carnatica’s Bharat Sangeet Utsav, proved that collaborative music can work. Provided it is backed by experience, the exuberance of youth and hard work.

Organiser K.N. Shashikiran of Carnatica says the idea of the fest was to showcase a blend of traditional and contemporary music. “Let’s say a nice mix of youth and experience,” he smiles.

Pianist Anil Srinivasan and singer Sikkil Gurucharan are no strangers to this stage. The schoolmates have worked together for many years. Anil, a wonderful narrator, spoke about the story of how Empress Leizu discovered silk when a cocoon fell into her tea cup. She came to be revered as the goddess of silk. “We found parallels between her life and Andal’s,” he said. Then, Anil presented a piece by Chinese composer Qigang Chen followed by a pasuram in Charan’s honeyed voice.

The easy camaraderie they shared with tabla player Meghshyam, the respect for the other’s craft and the long hours of practice shone through. It was a seamless experience. Anil, every year, as part of the Festival of Parallels in Chennai, draws connections between Western classical and Indian classical music — at the story, structure and music levels.

‘Tyagaraja meets Ilaiyaraaja’, an inspirational fusion, was a great example of how two streams of music can share the stage, even merge, and leave the audience smiling. The main players — P. Ganesh on the chitravina, B. Vijayagopal on the flute, K. Sathyanarayanan on the keyboard — are self-confessed fans of Ilaiyaraaja. They are devotees of Tyagaraja too. We love both Rajas, they say. They brought the two greats together for a memorable concert that pleased rasikas as well as lovers of light music. Accompanying them were three percussion players — veteran K.V. Prasad on the mridangam, K.V. Gopalakrishnan on the kanjira and Prasad’s son Krishna Kishore on the rhythm pad. They performed something similar in London two years ago, an idea that came from TV producer Subashree Thanikachalam. This time around, they decided to stick to instrumental music. Vijayagopal says that an instrumental show allows you to immerse yourself in the music better. “It is great that we have K.V. Prasad with us for this show. He’s a great classical artiste, but he has played film music for 30 years,” says Ganesh. “Ah yes,” agrees Prasad, who has played many percussion instruments. “It’s just a matter of adapting oneself.”

For the concert they chose a Tyagaraja composition, followed by an Ilaiyaraaja creation in the same raga or a similar one. There were a medley of tunes, and in one instance, the background music of ‘Thendral Vandhu Ennai Thodum’ was played alongside a Tyagaraja piece. Sathyanarayanan was amazed by the crowd support. They seemed to pick up every cue that came from the stage, including Prasad’s ready smile when they played ‘Kaatril Varum Geethame’ from Oru Naal Oru Kanavu — Prasad acted in that film.