A vocal touch to the veena

The multi-faceted musician Ramana Balachandran made good use of his vocal strengths in a recent veena concert

Published - March 06, 2020 10:03 am IST

Ramana Balachandran

Ramana Balachandran

Bengaluru-based Ramana Balachandran, 17, who had learnt to identify ragas as a toddler and had claimed in an interview that the veena chose him (and not the other way round), came down to Hyderabad for an instrumental concert organised by Sri Karthikeya Gana Sabha recently. The weekend evening was proof of how well he has blossomed into a skilful instrumentalist over the years (he plays the mridangam too). Currently training under his musician father Balachandran, Ramana lends distinctness to his veena concerts with an appealing vocal touch.

Commencing most of his concerts by offering the audience a flavour of the vaggeyakara’s sahitya through the pallavi, he gradually progresses towards the instrumental segment and makes a surprise return to the lyrical element in a later charanam almost effortlessly. The vocal and instrumental segments seamlessly segued with his opening number, Thyagaraja’s Ninne Bhajana in Nata ragam. The many gamakas and the imaginative swarakalpana in the higher tempo gave the rendition a flourish in a ragam that is conventionally touched upon at the beginning of a concert.

His next choice was Challare Ramachandruni in Ahiri ragam. Known to evoke the karuna rasa and believed to be one of the most difficult ragas to render on a veena, Ramana displayed impressive restraint in exploring the several contours of Ahiri. The textured composition received its due on the instrument and the youngster followed it up with an assured performance of another challenging kriti Sri Narada Naada . The pensively styled composition with varying scales is always a firm test of skill for a musician. The swara delineation proved that the ornamental, gamaka-driven Kanada ragam is best savoured on the veena.

Among the many masterpieces that Balamuralikrishna has composed, Meenakshi Jayada in Hamsanandi is certainly a jewel in his crown. The ease with which the young musician balanced the veena, singing the complex charanams addressing Goddess Durga and was supported by the mridangam artiste Raghavan Sai, resulted in a compelling output that served a timely reminder of the composer’s musical genius. The majesticity of a Ghana ragam like Bhairavi was elaborated at length in Ramana’s ragalapana before presenting Thyagaraja’s Raksha Bettare . The neraval and manodharma at Sangeethapriya sustained the musician’s fine momentum.

In times when RTP rarely makes it to vocal concerts beyond the annual music festivals, it was a welcome surprise to watch Ramana take up the hummable, melodic Brindavana Sarangi ragam as the main item. Gurunatha Aruna Gurunatha Ramana Karuna Satchidananda was his choice of lyrics for the pallavi segment. The charm of the ragam comes from its glides and subtle modulation, which Ramana successfully elicited in multiple tempos. The camaraderie between the percussionist and the veena artiste made it an enriching experience as well. Rendering one of Nedunuri Krishnamurthy’s most complex compositions among the Ramadasu kirtanas, Emayya Rama in Kambhoji ragam, the musician had proved that he was prepared to take the rough road ahead. Though a few madhyama kala kritis would have made the concert livelier and could’ve provided momentary relief to the musician too, the youngster’s courageous choices showed he belonged to a different breed.

Swati Tirunal’s Vishweshwara Darshan, probably the simplest of numbers that Ramana played during the evening, worked well as an attempt to lend lingual diversity to the lineup with the brief vocal portions. Sans any showmanship, here were two confident youngsters who commanded the rasikas to sit through a nearly three-hour concert with rapt attention.

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