“How many of you here are Raja sir devotees?” asks Anil Srinivasan, the charming host of the ‘How to name it?' concert. Every single hand in the packed auditorium goes up. “Well, since all of you are, I don't need to speak much,” he says, and he plays a few wonderful notes from Ilaiyaraja's compositions to much cheering. And for the rest of the evening, it was Ilaiyaraja's music that did all the talking.
Twenty-five years after the release of the path-breaking ‘How to name it?' album, the live concert, at the Anna Centenary Library Auditorium, Kotturpuram on Sunday, had people patiently queuing for a seat from 4.45 p.m.
With a star line-up of musicians and instrumentalists (Ambi Subramaniam, son of legendary violinist Dr. L. Subramaniam, Veena vidwan Kalaimamani Rajesh Vaidya) besides 40 members from Ilaiyaraja's orchestra, the show begins with a moving ‘Janani, Janani' by Ilaiyaraja's daughter Bavatharini, who dedicates the show to her mother with a touching, simple, “Ma, I love you ma, this is for you”.
“It was Ilaiyaraja who introduced us to Western classical music,” says Anil Srinivasan, the classical pianist. And in the title track ‘How to name it' (composed in Simmendramadhyamam), a western classical section has been beautifully woven into it, something “only Raja sir can do”. With the orchestra director Prabakaran ably conducting the proceedings, the entire ‘How to name it?' album is played live to a vastly appreciative crowd. Violinist Ambi Subramaniam, 19, and Adithya Ganesh (all of 15)are the darlings of the evening. The melodious violin strains fill every nook and cranny of the enormous auditorium. Every track is punctuated by hearty applause, with cries of encore and several standing ovations.
But the highlight of the programme – a dream-come-true for every Ilaiyaraja fan — is when he walks onto the stage. After a whole minute of cheering, the audience listens to him talk about his long association with Dr. L Subramaniam (who previously spoke briefly) and his introduction to Western Classical music in 1968. And it's definitely humbling when he says, “I don't know how the music comes. If I find out, it will stop”. The audience, by then, is in raptures; Ilaiyaraja has played a few notes on the piano, regaled them with a story; and cries of ‘please sing for us' fill the hall. “For amma,” adds Bavatharini (the show benefits ‘Jeeva Foundation', for under-privileged children, set up in memory of the late wife of the composer) and Ilaiyaraja's sings a beautiful ‘Sada Sada Unnai Ninaindhu', accompanied by Rajesh Vaidya, in Hindolam ragam. And after this, the second half, consisting of Ilaiyaraja's film songs, is merely icing on a very delicious cake.