East and West reside harmoniously on his instrument. A trained western classical pianist, Anil Srinivasan is known for producing Indian ragas on the Western piano. Anil who claims ‘the piano found him’, says his musical sojourn goes back a long way.
His tryst with the piano started at the age of three when he asked his kindergarten music teacher to let him play the piano. “According to my family, my teacher was surprised when instead of childish banging on the keys, which she expected, I played a laudable piece. I believe the instrument chooses you, and not you the instrument,” says Anil, who grew up surrounded by Carnatic music. “Western music was alien in my household and neighbourhood while growing up. I guess my community sensibility pushed me to Carnatic music and my individualistic urge pushed me towards Western music,” adds Anil, who learnt to play the instrument from Meena Radhakrishnan (Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer’s daughter-in-law) and Anna Abraham, a known piano instructor in Chennai.
Anil laughs as he says he must be one of the few people to have gone to Semmangudi’s residence to study Western classical music, while others were there to learn Carnatic strains. It was a chance meeting with Lalgudi Jayaraman during a family trip to Kodaikanal, however, that changed his direction in life. “Lalgudi Jayaraman taught me to play three thillanas on the piano.”
The pianist who has collaborated with musicians such as John McLaughlin, Eli Yamin, Sikkil Gurucharen, Bombay Jayashri, the Lalgudi siblings and Umayalpuram Sivaraman and accompanied them on the piano admits that it took him years to develop the confidence within him to express himself creatively on the piano. “I still maintain that it is physically impossible to present Carnatic classical music on a solo piano. What I do is create a framework around Carnatic music, more in accompaniment mode,” says Anil, who was awarded the first ever Ustad Bismillah Khan Yuva Puraskar in the creative and experimental music category by Sangeet Natak Akademi.
The pianist who plays Western classical music when he plays solo is a ‘Carnatic pianist’ when he plays with other musicians. He is releasing ‘Touch’, a “piano-centric album” that is a culmination of his journey with the piano. “A piano can do anything, and I hope that this album which has Carnatic music, Western classical, jazz…touches the hearts of listeners.” The album will be premiered at Liverpool, Manchester, England at the end of the month. The musician was in the city for workshops organised by Casio for students of Centre for Development of Music Studies and Sri Swati Tirunal College of Music and for an exclusive concert for music teachers at Chirag Inn.