Friday Review

A show of camaraderie at Shashank-Lelo Niko concert

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The music was a riveting blend, writes Lakshmi Sreeram

The Park’s New Festival is about the new and the contemporary. To engage with it one needs a different orientation. It is a challenge to assess such performances.

This year, the festival brought together flute artist Shashank Subramanyam with the European Lelo Niko Trio, comprising accordionist Lelo Niko, bassist Thommy Anderson and Cimbalom player, George Mihalache. Ojas Adhiya from Mumbai was on the tabla. The group had the audience in raptures.

The concert showcased the musicians’ virtuosity and zest for music, leaving a strong impression of warm camaraderie among them as they interacted with each other, picking up from where the other left and enjoying each other’s music. Flute and accordion came across as the lead instruments with the bass and the cimbalom mostly providing crucial support of rhythm and texture. Ojas delighted with his joyful playing.

The first piece, ‘Hora,’ a composition of Lelo’s, was a riot of colour. Persian in inspiration, with close spaced notes flying off the instruments at dizzying speeds, it left no doubt about the command the musicians wielded over their respective instruments.

The second piece began with beautiful movements of raga Hemavati by Shashank, some breathtaking phrases weaving a gentle tapestry that the other musicians dived in and out of. The response of Lelo and Thommy in the middle of the piece was riveting. After the restless frolic of the first piece this did offer oases of tranquillity.

‘The Gypsy Song’ was a purely European affair. The trio played the piece with Lelo leading the other two masterfully, and the three created some classy music. Lelo Niko’s solo interlude showed why he is celebrated.

His showmanship came to the fore when he slowly rose from his seat and walked almost precariously on the edge of the stage moving stylishly with his instrument, now cajoling it, now pushing it, now pounding it to finish with a flourish for the audience to break out into an applause.

The bass player is typically not the most dominating performer on stage and Thommy offered quiet, but strong rhythmic and harmonic support, enhancing the joy of the experience. He offered a traditional dance piece from Northern Sweden. Shashank etched out a landscape of longing with notes from Madhuvanti/Dharmavati scales followed predictably by Ojas’ solo foray, and an enjoyable interaction between the flute and the accordion.

George played a short, delightful piece on the cimbalom in seven beats. The cimbalom is classified as a hammered dulcimer, somewhat like the santoor, but with a heavier sound. The piece that was ‘in Kalyani’ did not come together like the others did.

There were flashes of brilliance, with the broad sweeps across octaves, by Shashank and the impromptu jamming between Shashank and Lelo.

It included an interesting composition of Shashank’s with complex rhythmic structuring.

One serious challenge of pitting Carnatic music with other traditions is its use of just intonation. Even if the ‘same’ notes as Kalyani were produced on the accordion, they sounded different because of the variations between even and just/pure tempered scales. But that is something to be overlooked in a venture like this and to their credit there were not too many such jarring moments. Only when Lelo played in quick succession to the flute did this arise on a couple of occasions.

Another piece called ‘Mintu’ which transposed scales in quick succession, a difficult feat to pull off on the flute, was followed by the concluding piece, F# Minor. We were told it is a traditional ending piece in Lelo’s culture. It is interesting how traditions across the globe seek to end with minor scales.

One marvelled at the process of collaboration — of listening to the other, of finding ways to come together, of writing the music, practising it together and finally being able to deliver it with panache on stage.

For Ranvir Shah, curator of this festival, “Transnational collaboration shows how our culture engages with other cultures”. Certainly the easy camaraderie and understanding as well as the quality of music suggested that it engages rather well.

It takes vision, courage and grit to put together a festival such as this and it is to the credit of Chennai that among the Sankarabharanams and Begadas, it is warmly receptive to this kind of music too.

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Printable version | Dec 10, 2019 6:21:43 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/A-show-of-camaraderie-at-Shashank-Lelo-Niko-concert/article14628539.ece

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