Margazhi Festival

For those sweet spots


Is it time to bring back the time-honoured performance regimen in concerts?

It was a hall packed with listeners anticipating the Semmangudi pyrotechnics in a 1960 setting. The star line-up of Lalgudi Jayaraman and Vellore Ramabhadran set up a great concert. The two hour, thirty minutes (approximately) long concert had around 18 songs, 5 alapanas, swarams in several songs, the tempo of a horse-ride, at least five thalams, several combinations of rishabam, gandharam, madhyamam and daivatham in raga choices, eight composers, a short sweet thani and aesthetic but short thukkadas and viruttam.

This concert was not an oddity. It was the norm. Eight out of ten concerts in the 1950s and 1960s had these elements – a large repertoire, several contrasting ragams with primacy to the big five or the extended ten, thala assortments, kalapramana variety, proportion in the kalpana-kalpita mix, and of course, keen professional competition on stage. The accompanists were stalwarts in their own right -- famed combinations of Semmangudi-T.N. Krishnan-Palghat Mani Iyer or GNB-Lalgudi Jayaraman-Palani Subramania Pillai, Madurai Mani Iyer–Chowdiah–Palani Subramania Pillai and of course, Ariyakkudi and Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer before them. They established the sweet spot between a musician’s music and that of the average listener, still upholding high musical standards. DKJ, KVN, Ramnad Krishnan and Rangachary in later years were true adherers to this rulebook that coined the idiom ‘wholesomeness.’

The concerts of this golden period continue to be treasured possessions even today. Passionate rasikas who were born after this period are slaves to that music and have populated the web with myriad recordings. Such glory around that arc of music begs the question as to why it is slowly giving way to other concert brews, some to a rebellious and quirky degree.

Why don’t concerts have 15-20 songs even in a short duration of 120 to 150 minutes? We now listen to about 5-8 pieces in some concerts with disproportionate tanis. It’s not true that the 60s did not have manodharma – far from it. In fact, their manodharma was remarkably original since they did not have much to fall back on. Madurai Mani Iyer’s layered swara construction, GNB’s amazing raga structures, Alathur brothers’ laya laden niraval and swaram, Semmangudi’s unique kalapramanam and verve bore an outstanding inventive stamp. It baffles us as to how they fashioned those innovations, each choosing a different track and each producing outcomes that have lasted over five decades!

The experimentation flu seems to have done a few rounds in the recent past. It is not clear if these experiments have achieved the desired goals – elevating the artist’s stature, enhancing audience enjoyment or educating a new crop of audiences. The general verdict may come as a disappointment to the experimenting artists. The neglect of the Trinity in favour of lesser known composer (I have nothing against them but Virat Kohli is not Bradman), constantly re-jigging the format and sequence, extended alapanas or swaras sometimes bordering on voice exercises and blind mimicking of stalwarts have all been hoisted on the altar with unremarkable effects. Is it time to pull the plug on unaesthetic trials? Restoration of the time-honoured performance regimen could perhaps trigger the next wave of interest and real audience engagement. One is however, unsure if the community of Facebook friends and net admirers of artists will ‘like’ it!

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Printable version | Jan 28, 2020 10:06:24 PM |

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