MUSICSCAN: Sowmya's recent recital at the Hamsadhwani reminded this columnist of a 2009 concert by her at the same venue that had also held rasikas spellbound.
Neela neerada sareera, dheeratara...
(Courageous, with dark raincloud-like complexion....)
That lovely string of a dozen syllables figuring in a well-known Sanskrit song - repeated again and again in an extensive niraval phase of Dikshitar's kriti, ‘Baala-Gopaala' in the raga Bhairavi in praise of the handsome young God Krishna - is still fresh in one's memory, a whole year after Sowmya had held the large audience spellbound with that song in March 2009 at Hamsadhwani. And Sowmya cast a similar spell again on the rasikas at the same venue a couple of weeks ago, with a fascinating exercise in the beautiful raga Saaramati, in the form of an unusual Raagam-Taanam-Pallavi.
Each of those numbers lasted about an hour (including a percussion solo of 15/10 minutes) and totally dominated the respective concerts. Yet they were quite free from heavy technical frills, reaching out to the hearts of the listeners and leaving an indelible impression in their minds. And one couldn't help wondering what precisely was so special about these particular cases, to attract such response from the rasikas.
Before we try to find an answer to that question, it will only be fair to recall the names of the accompanists (2009/2010 respectively), all of whom performed admirably and enabled the singer to excel: Avaneeswaran Vinu and Embar Kannan (violin), Mannargudi Easwaran and Neyveli Narayanan (mridangam), Aniruddh Atreya and Dr. S. Kartick (ganjira/ghatam).
Excellence, of course, is the hallmark of Sowmya's music. Her knowledge is immense, and her repertoire is extensive and wide-ranging. Her technical skills are impeccable. Her voice is forceful and flexible, and her stage presence impressive. Her concerns take her far beyond the concert platform, into fields such as dissemination, distance education and creation of archives using ultra-modern tools, especially the Internet.
All told, she's popular enough to attract a full (or nearly full) house wherever she performs, whether it's at a small temple or a huge concert hall. But somehow the audience often tends to thin out gradually. The main reason for this, I believe, is that the musical load is usually too heavy for the ordinary rasikas to carry for long, and beyond a point they tend to lose their concentration. This, in turn, is due to the fact that Sowmya likes to demonstrate her superior technical virtuosity on each and every occasion.
And in any gathering there's always hard core admirers who encourage her to do this, unmindful of the negative effect it has on other equally appreciative listeners.
The solution would be for Sowmya to classify her concerts into two distinct categories – one, where she can show her technical prowess and the other, where she cuts out the frills and reaches out to the hearts of the rasikas rather, as she did in the two Hamsadhwani concerts under review, where even the Raagam-Taanam-Pallavi was extremely simplified, preserving the lovely fragrance of Saramati to the end.
Being an alumnus of the Indian Institute of Technology, Technolody, Chennai, with a master's degree in chemistry, perhaps Sowmya will be inclined to appreciate my point of view if I said that she may find it rewarding to reduce the specific gravity of her music in popular concerts, reserving her full technical power for academic contexts. Platinum may be more sophisticated, just as the jewellers claim, but wouldn't most of us prefer good old gold?