Margazhi Festival

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“One of my top favourite venues in the world, both as a performer as well as a listener, is the wonderful “Musiri Chamber.” The old world charm coupled with the intimate setting, makes it an ideal venue to make music and experience it at its highest level. The graciousness, warmth and hospitality of the hosts add immeasurable value to the whole package.” These words of vocalist and vainika Aswathi Thirunal Rama Varma echo what was expressed by all individuals who lent their thoughts for this article.

Happily co-existing with the grand sabhas of Chennai just minutes away, Musiri Chamber is nestled in a beautiful home, thriving and attracting the best artists whilst bringing in a full house of the most discerning of audiences. For Sikkil Mala Chandrasekhar, playing there evokes serenity, bringing out hidden musical ideas. “The involvement of the hosts and the rapt audience gives me freedom to explore. I cannot wait to perform there again,” she says.

So how did it all begin? To find out, I sit down with the organisers, S. Thyagarajan, his wife Rajeswari Thyagarajan, and her brother, V. Chandrasekaran, members of Musiri Subramania Iyer’s family. “Years ago, on a train journey, my brother-in-law and I wondered if we could not have concerts here similar to those organised by our good friend, late S.V. Krishnan (SVK of Nada Inbam and Ragasudha Hall), at his home,” says Chandrasekaran. “We felt we should try.”

The building where the concerts take place used to be Musiri Subramania Iyer’s car shed and adjoins his house. It is at present occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Thyagarajan and their family.

“We were not involved with music after Musiri’s demise, and the concerts were a way to bring in music again,” Thyagarajan says. SVK was of immense help, teaching them the ropes and physically being present to organise the first concert in the early 1990s, featuring Raji Gopalakrishnan. From the hand written post cards used at inception, the typically once-a-month concerts are now announced in the newspapers and have their own loyal, practically cult, following. Chandrasekaran also sends a thorough, painstakingly written email with information on all the performers of the upcoming concert. The family has procured equipment too.

“We now have an excellent sound system suited to chamber concerts,” explains Chandrasekaran who, along with his son, Siddharth, takes care of the technical aspects. “A few months ago, we started web casting the concerts live.”

Both Thyagarajan and Chandrasekaran are fully employed in industry, and the concerts are a true labour of love - with no sponsors, it has been going on without interruption.

The entire family pitches in to get the home ready for each recital – and here, the organisers sit discreetly behind, invisible to those busy to notice. No speeches here - the focus is on the performers alone.

Was it difficult to get established artists, used to grand sabhas, to agree to sing in a home? “Not at all,” says Thyagarajan. “We were fortunate to have every artist we invited consent to perform here, and most graciously. We are grateful to them.” Mrs. Thyagarajan observes, “Many also share snippets of thatha during the concerts, and take the trouble to sing kritis considered his hallmark.” The late T.K. Govinda Rao, a Musiri disciple and frequent performer at the chamber, even used Musiri’s own tamburas (on display at the Chamber) for his concerts.

“Chamber concerts have a dignity all their own,” says R. Vedavalli. “The rapport between the performers and the rasikas is palpable. The involved and musically knowledgeable hosts add an extra dimension.” Senior mridangam vidwan, Mannargudi Easwaran adds: “Sitting at the same level as the rasikas and being able to actually see them at Musiri Chamber, not just their silhouettes, means we actually feel their involvement, raising the bar of our performance.”

Aside from most of the well-known musicians, the chamber showcases skilled but lesser known artists who are out of the limelight – and such is Musiri Chamber’s reputation for quality that it is believed that anyone performing there must be good!

The Chamber has staged interesting performances such as the trio of Suguna Purushothaman, Suguna Varadachari and Mani Krishnaswamy, all direct students of Musiri Subramania Iyer.

Taking a cue from them, other organisations too, subsequently, featured this combination. T.M. Krishna sang a unique concert, his first one with just the tambura and no other accompanying instruments, which was later released as a CD. A variety of instruments from the jalatarangam (Anayampatti Ganesan) and the nagaswaram (Kasim and Babu) to the piano (Anil Srinivasan) and the Madras String Quartet (led by V.S. Narasimhan), have been presented as well.

A little known behind-the-scenes fact is that the hosts have, from inception, made arrangements to escort the artists back and forth the venue, unless the artists decide otherwise. A much looked forward to simple, home cooked meal is served to the artists post-concert. “It is the least we can do,” says Thyagarajan, with his characteristic humility. Meanwhile, Mannargudi Easwaran reminisces on the hosts’ hospitality, “That curd rice and veppilaikatti...”

Krishna Kumar Rangachari, a rasika, says that the Chamber’s carefully selected concerts are a good microcosm of the large field and a monthly routine for him. Being practically face to face with the performers, young children, like his daughters, are able to sustain their interest. Meena Narayanaswamy likes the fact that nobody flouts the rules - even without enforcement.

Another rasika, Shankar Subramanian, summarises it eloquently. “Musiri Chamber offers a unique opportunity to experience our music, perhaps in the way it is meant to be enjoyed. The organisers are warm and inviting and always greet us with big smiles; the relaxed atmosphere gives the artists freedom to express themselves and allows listeners to soak in the great music at close quarters. To me, Musiri Chamber exemplifies the artistic achievement, dedication and hospitality that our culture should rightly be proud of.”

For more information, contactmusirichamber@ gmail.com.

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Printable version | Jan 25, 2020 4:59:25 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/chennai-margazhi-season/musiri-chamber-intimate-and-exclusive/article6694220.ece

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