Growing together, bowing together

Granddaughters of the late Lakshminarayana Iyer, Lalitha and Nandini are nieces of the celebrated violinists L. Subramaniam and L. Shankar and represent the fourth generation of their lineage.  

There’s something about performing duos, especially siblings. Even when they are distinct in appearance and age, and treat their arts as complementing, not twinning each other, it can be difficult for a non-acquaintance to tell them apart. But perhaps what really makes it complicated is that successful duos speak in one voice — metaphorically. The violin duo of M. Lalitha and M. Nandini certainly does, so much so that their emails and sms messages are signed collectively, and both identify themselves to strangers on the phone as “Lalitha Nandini”. Then again, why should we know who’s who, as long as their strings are always in sync? Interestingly, the two sisters are also soloists, since with their varied commitments they cannot always be together. Known as the ‘Violin Sisters’, they are renowned as the only female duo in Asia to perform World music, South Indian classical, fusion and Western classical music. Granddaughters of the late Lakshminarayana Iyer, they are nieces of the celebrated violinists L. Subramaniam and L. Shankar and represent the fourth generation of their lineage. Here, Lalitha and Nandini, who will be performing a Carnatic violin duet this Friday evening in the Capital, answer a few questions on their journey. Edited excerpts:

You started playing the violin at a very early age. As we grow up we all have found that our tastes, our inclinations and sometimes even our strong opinions or principles change with time, as we gain new experience and exposure to the larger world. Have you observed the same happening in your music too — perhaps in your approach, in likes and dislikes, etc.? 

Lalitha We started learning from our grandfather and guru V. Lakshminarayana Iyer at around two and a half years and still continue to learn from our mother and guru Subbulakshmi Muthuswamy, since music is an ocean and you learn every day, every minute. We learnt vocal from the doyen of Carnatic music Sri Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer and have specialised in the rendering of Muthuswamy Dikshitar’s compositions. We started performing together as a duo. Though our tastes, inclinations do differ, in music we have found that our vibrations exactly match. For instance, in the middle of a concert, sometimes keeping the audience in mind, I will have a raga or a kriti and ask Nandini what do you think we should play next and immediately, as though reading my mind, she will say the same that I would have thought of. It’s vice versa too and many times we have kept quizzes too, and found that it matches, till date.

Is it tough to transition from being a duet partner to a soloist and back? 

Yes, we started performing as a duo and continue till date. In fact as a duo we have created a lot of history in the field of music.

Since both of us were based abroad, we were selected as cultural ambassadors with Fulbright and Charles Wallace Trust Fellowships, we were in the U.S. and the U.K. respectively. Given that situation we had to adapt to a newer role sometimes, and became soloists too. This is not tough, and we feel this is the process of evolving as a musician.

Though we perform together, yet we have our parts as soloists too in a duet concert. Each of us has our own individualities, though both of us are inseparable. We have also been performing jugalbandis that involve one of us along with a North Indian artiste. We have performed with Ustad Shahid Parvez Khan, Ronu Majumdar, Abhijit Banerjee, Yogesh Samsi, Fazal Qureshi, Purbayan Chatterjee, Tarun Bhattacharya, to name a few.

In fusion music we have collaborated with George Brooks (saxophone) from USA, Miguel Chachowski (Flamenco guitar) from Poland, Carl Rathus (Shakuhachi) from Australia, Pirpauke from Finland, Homayoun Sakhi (rabab) from Afghanistan, Abbos Kosimov (doyra) from Uzbekistan, and others.

You have studied a number of musical genres of the world. Has this eclectic learning had an influence on your Carnatic music playing in any way?

Every system has its own beauty, though we have studied a number of musical genres of the world, we see to it when we play Carnatic we do not mix the other styles. Though we have tried to adapt the strong bowing technique of Western classical to Carnatic music to enrich the music. Also, the usage of fourth finger which is primarily used in Western classical, which we have adapted too, This was particularly taught by our guru V Lakshminarayana who developed good exercises for mastering the fourth finger technique.

Have you any plans for the performance, and how much do you actually plan your classical concerts, given the improvisational and mood-driven nature of India’s classical music?

Generally we have a basic structure in mind but on the concert stage depending on the vibe we get from the audience and also sometimes requests, we might change the concert contents. And also, Carnatic music is improvisational in nature, as you rightly put it.

Lalitha and Nandini will perform as part of the Horizons Series of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, Azad Bhavan, Indraprastha Estate, New Delhi, July 11, at 6.15 p.m. They will be accompanied by Kumbakonam N. Padmanabhan (mridangam), Mannai N. Kannan (ghatam), M. Subbulakshmi (tala) and K. Muthuswamy (special effects).

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Printable version | Jul 25, 2021 10:55:44 AM |

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