Pianist Anil Srinivasan speaks to SUBHA J RAO about taking over as executive director of Brhaddhvani, and how he has finally found his musical calling

There's a perceptible flush on classical pianist Anil Srinivasan's visage. Two things have contributed to that — his taking over as executive director of Brhaddhvani from January, and his whirlwind romance and February 2010 wedding to Archana, a scientist and dancer.

He's all excited about the Brhaddhvani opportunity. “Music chooses you. And, I'm glad for the chance to be with an organisation set up in 1989 by Karaikudi Subramanian to ‘provide research and training in the musics of the world'. Art and music are intense experiences, and I feel like I've finally found a shirt that fits me,” he smiles.

You'd tend to agree. Anil's laughing more, and there's a spring in his step. All this has come after years of fighting the system, though. There were times when he was dejected, wondering if the world would ever understand his music. But, that was when he composed grief-laden gems such as ‘Aasai Mugham' (Madirakshi) and ‘Punguyil' (Maayaa). “That's true,” agrees Anil, recalling what jazz guitarist John McLaughlin once said: “You play fantastic sad; you do sad happy.”

“But, I think that such conflict is vital. It helps you seek a resolution,” says Anil, who has donned the many hats of musician, writer, teacher and management consultant (he holds a Ph.D. from Columbia University).

“Actually, I've always been in conflict. So many things and people have demanded my love and time; see, I've lost most of my hair,” he quips.

But, nothing is going to stop Anil from pushing himself. “It's easy to float on the surface and be complacent. You can choose not to be affected. But, once you begin to move towards the light, the journey, though painful, is amazing.”

And, that happened on July 24, 2009, three years after Madirakshi, when he played on M.S. Subbulakshmi's piano at Kalakshetra — “it was like an honour for the music I had created.”

For now, he is all set for the Brhaddhvani stint. “Now is the chance to look at music as education. It is not just for the exceptionally talented,” says Anil, talking about his experience with a dyslexic child. “I found that she could understand the system of counting in sarali varisai, as opposed to not figuring out regular math.”

And, Anil insists that we think differently with music. “As for me, if everything in my life is removed, and only one thing can stay, it would be music,” says the pianist, trained by Meena Radhakrishnan (Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer's daughter-in-law) and Anna Abraham.

Harmonious notes

Over the years, he has partnered with many musicians, and his notes have spanned the globe — be it playing with John McLaughlin, pianist Eli Yamin and cellist Jan Vogler, or our very own mandolin whiz U. Shrinivas and his brother U. Rajesh. He's also had harmonious partnerships with Chitravina Ravikiran (they've just released an album ‘Flame of the Forest'), Aruna Sairam, Unnikrishnan, Lalgudi GJR Krishnan, Umayalpuram Sivaraman, percussionist B.S. Purushottam and his sound engineer Vedant.

But, the most emotionally-enriching is the one he shares with Sikkil Gurucharan, his musical partner and best buddy. “Charan is the main melody in my soundscape. Over the years, we've evolved as people, collaborators and friends.” The duo is to soon come out with its fifth album, and Anil's 15th, tentatively titled ‘Monochrome'. The musical partners also spoke at the TED conference this year, about the process of keeping two traditions alive by combining them.

Anil, now a wise 32, is used to being perceived as being too mature. But, friends vouch for his rare goofy outings. Even as we talk, childhood memories flood in, and Anil recalls how he used to jump the wall to his neighbour, dancer Anita Ratnam's house, to pluck mangoes.

Ask him about when the seed for the Madirakshi experiment was probably sown, and he recalls the time when he played the piano in accompaniment to his mother's guru, Suguna Purushottaman. “I got the idea of emotion-rich music when I met Charan in 2005 during a school reunion. His music stirred something in me — the result was Madirakshi. But, I never knew it would become a format.”

Family matters

Anil says his father (the multi-faceted T.M. Srinivasan) and mother Malini, whose belief in Anil never wavered, are the biggest influences on his life. And then, there's big brother, theatre-person TMK Karthik, who bears Anil's bullying, uncomplainingly. Deepak, the second brother, is his anchor. “With so many artistes at home, it is important to have a normal person around. That's him.”

Now, he has only one wish. That the marriage of technology and music helps reach the art to everyone! That day, he says, “my life will be complete.”