Friday Review

Amidst the heights of melody...

Ronu Mazumdar  

The recently concluded 3rd Shimla Classical Music Festival was impressive as no attempt at all was made to appease the musical sensibilities of a relatively under exposed and musically inexperienced audience.

Shimla has not been a classical music hub, and for decades, not really exposed on a regular basis to concerts. Despite being the summer home of legendary sitarist Ustad Vilayat Khan in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Shimla has languished musically over the past 40 years.

As such, the organisers could have felt their way musically by having two or three artists per evening to cut the monotony, or to “hedge their bets”, colloquially speaking. Instead, the format of the festival remained one artist per evening so that the audience could savour the slow unfolding of the concert, as it was done in the bygone era.

Held at the Gaiety Theatre on the ridge, the festival started with the popular Shubha Mudgal, who inaugurated the festival and sang a beautiful Puriya Dhanashri. Her embellishments always kept in harmony with the mood of the raga created by her and were never distracting. The Aiman which followed was perhaps not her best, but the next piece, a dadra in Manjh Khamach was magnificent; the vocal sweep with which she reached the “sum” was breathtaking. Her concluding piece was a tribute to one of her Gurus, Padmashri Naina Devi who lived for some time in Shimla – a “jhula” in Mishra Pilu that she had been taught by the thumri doyen. The mesmerizing slow movement of a moving jhula was captured totally in this piece which was sung with expertise. Aneesh Pradhan on tabla, as always, enhanced the concert by his discreet interjections. Sudhir Nayak is undoubtedly one of the finest harmonium players today and this concert proved it.

Shubhankar Banerji representing mixed “baaj” (style) of Farrukhabad Lucknow and Banaras tabla gharanas, and Yogesh Samsi of the Punjab gharana, mesmerised the packed hall with their crisply executed, intricate sequences. Their playing was seamless, two players with one soul, never combative, each complementing the other’s pieces. They played teen taal, with several kaydas of masters including Ustad Keramutalluh Khan, Ustad Allah Rakha Khan, Ustad Baba Malang and Ustad Amir Hussain. Also a most interesting sequence of Dilli gharana baaj, with emphasis on the two finger strokes. The maestros enthralled the audience for over two hours! On the sarangi was Karam Singh Namdhari from the Namdhari ashram at Sri Bhaini Sahib, Punjab.

Ronu Mazumdar is a consummate artist, who delights wherever he performs. His melodic rendering combined with appealing layakari (rhythm play) made for a most enjoyable evening. His Jaijaiwanti, in which he played a soulful aalap, then two gats (rupak and teentaal) which were adaptations of old vocal bandishes, ended with an ultra fast jhala. Unfortunately, on the flute jhala does not have the impact of other instruments for which jhala was originally created (veena, sarod, sitar). He played several other pieces – a very brief Nand, bhatiali in which he added and played a beautiful tune that followers of the saint Chaitanya Mahaprabhu sing, a kajri, on request, Pahari in which to the delight of the Himachali listeners he started with a lovely Himachali dhun which he said he had learnt from his student Hari Datt Bharadwaj who provided apt accompaniment on the flute. Ram Kumar Mishra on the tabla was, as ever, a master.

Ashwini Bhide Deshpande on the concluding day maintained her impeccable tradition of giving full weightage to a bandish, singing it with deliberation, and bringing out the essence of the lyrics.Old bandishes are constructed with great care and usually open out the raga in its complete form; if they are rendered with exactitude and giving correct emphasis, they are immensely satisfying.

She sang Vachaspati, a ragam of Carnatic origin; the concluding ada chautaal drut khayal was specially appreciated being extremely unusual as well as expertly rendered with racy taans and tihais. She explained the unusual choice of the next raga – the late afternoon Patdeep, as the lyrics of her composition was ideally suited to the approaching festival of Diwali.

She ended with a tarana in the same raga. Her next offering was a thumri, then Kabir bhajan. Indeed, it was an experience to relish in the culturally deprived city of Shimla. The appreciation of the crowds was evident in the spontaneous standing ovations the artists got.

This year, the Department of Languages Art and Culture chose to collaborate with Society for Promotion of Indian Classical Music And Culture Among Youth (SPICMACAY). As such, for three mornings, at the Gaiety theatre, children of various schools in Shimla came and heard lecture demonstrations by Ronu Mazumdar, Bhajan Sopori and Ashwini Bhide Deshpande.

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Printable version | Nov 23, 2020 12:55:56 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/Amidst-the-heights-of-melody.../article16442875.ece

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