Come April, and many North American cities host Tyagaraja Utsavam. One of the oldest takes place in Houston. The 33rd Tyagaraja Utsavam was organised by the Classical Arts Society of Houston along with Sri Meenakshi Temple Society at Sri Meenakshi Temple, Pearland, Texas.
The theme was ‘Endaro Mahanubhavulu Andhariki Vandanamulu' (Salutations to all great men all over), conceptualised by the artistic director of the utsavam, Charumathi Ramachandran. The festival was also dedicated to the memory of G.N. Balasubramaniam.
The festival began with a concert by Bharath Sundar accompanied by Jaishankar Balan on the violin and Kallidaikurichi Sivakumar on the mridangam.
A lec-dem on the music of GNB was presented by his disciple Trichur Ramachandran. The characteristic feature of GNB‘s music is innovation within the parameters of the grammar and tradition of Carnatic music. Ramachandran, accompanied by his daughter Shubhashree, regaled the audience with some popular GNB songs.
This session was followed by a group of Houstonians led by Anuradha Subramaniam singing Tyagaraja's compositions dedicated to Tulasi.
The next major event was a conversation between Charumathi Ramachandran and Bharath Sundar. A highlight was a demonstration of singing a pallavi in multiple ragas by Charumathi.
The evening's concert was by Gayathri Venkataraghavan accompanied by Jaishankar Balan on the violin and Kallidaikurichi Sivakumar on the mridangam. She included several pieces on Goddess Meenakshi.
The programme on Sunday commenced with an orchestral rendition of Tyagaraja's compositions by a band called Vadya Vrinda, co-coordinated by Mahesh Iyer. Charumathi presented an insightful lec-dem on ‘Chatur Sthree Ratnas' - the four lady legends of Carnatic Music M.S. Subbulakshmi, M.L. Vasanthakumari, D.K. Pattammal and Brinda-Muktha.
This was followed by the screening of a documentary on GNB produced by Enkay Vision. The film ‘Shakuntala', a cult classic with GNB and MS, was also screened.
The major addition to this year's Utsavam was a segment devoted to dancers' views of Tyagaraja's compositions. A group of dance gurus from Houston comprising Rathna Kumar, Padmini Chari, and Indrani Parthasarathi demonstrated the potential that Tyagaraja's compositions lent for dance. Their wonderful abhinaya and graceful movements were a visual feast.
Trichur Ramachandran, in concert again, was accompanied by Jaishankar Balan on the violin and Kallidaikurichi Sivakumar on the mridangam, and dedicated the concert to his guru GNB. He provided a veritable feast. ‘Meenakshi Me Mudam' in Gamakakriya was pleasing. He presented a RTP in Thodi which was a tribute not only to GNB but also T. N. Rajarathnam Pillai, the nagaswaram wizard. Jaishankar Balan and Kallidaikurichi Sivakumar deserve our praise for skillfully accompanying the three artists on three days of the Utsavam.
Apart from this, there were more than 85 singers who rendered Tyagaraja kritis. Little Srisanvitha Sridhar stole many hearts with her Harikatha rendition of ‘Nadaloludai' in Kalyanavasantham. Nalini Sadagopan with support from Bhavani Iyer, Lakshmi Venkateswaran, Sheila Sriram and Vyjayanthi Vivek kept up the flow of music with their skillful emceeing. The prize winners of the Cleveland Tyagaraja Aradhana music competitions and their Guru Rajeshwari Bhat were recognised. The visiting artists were honored by the Mayor of Pearland, Tom Reid.