India is more used to the keyboard than the piano, mentions pianist Anil Srinivasan, during his conversation. He’s been a pianist for as long as he can remember and in the last 10 years, has travelled for performances, showing how the piano is versatile enough to be used for Indian classical music — both Carnatic and Hindustani — besides western classical.
Anil will be in town to launch his new album, ‘Touch’, on October 3, at Hyderabad Public School. “There are eight tracks in ‘Touch’ that explore a range of possibilities with the piano, from Hindustani to Carnatic classical, jazz to a ‘kuthu’ song,” he says. Anil worked on the album for two years, collaborating with Mandolin U. Rajesh (who stepped in after the demise of U. Srinivas) and Rakesh Chaurasia among others, there’s also a track dedicated to Sharik Hasan’s jazz composition. Anil terms the Tamil cinema style ‘kuthu’ song as the tough one to crack.
Anil hails from a family that’s entrenched in Carnatic music and doesn’t remember when he first took to the piano. “I am told I started playing with the piano when I was three, in school. Though I don’t remember my early experiments, I learnt western classical music as one is supposed to for playing the piano,” he says.
While the atmosphere at home was steeped in Carnatic music, the shift to using the piano for Carnatic music came about partly because of Mandolin U. Srinivas and partly from Anil’s mother, who was a student of Suguna Purushothaman, and urged him to give it a try. “I had to device a format that would work, without tampering the grammar of Indian classical music,” says Anil.
Despite applying a spectrum of ragas to the piano, Anil maintains that there are limitations, like trying ‘gamakam’ on piano.
Collaborative work helped iron out rough edges. “I worked with people who were at the top of their game like Sikkil Gurucharan, ‘chitraveena’ Ravikiran, Lalgudi Jayaraman (who taught him tillanas on the piano) and Jayanthi Kumaresh,” he says. Years of experimentation and improvisation helped him arrive at a stage of ‘punctuating the music without puncturing it’ says Anil, borrowing a statement from singer Unnikrishnan.
Along the way, he gave a new spin to older and contemporary film music. Music directors in Chennai acknowledge his work and look forward to Anil’s take on their tracks.
Anil’s piano has paid tribute to Ilayaraja and Mani Ratnam. During an earlier collaboration with S.P. Balasubrahmanyam, he has touched upon Telugu film music as well.
Though Anil has performed several times in Hyderabad, he cherishes sharing the stage with Sharik Hasan in 2014. “It was a joy to perform to an extremely receptive audience. Our pianos played in harmony. Coming from different social and religious backgrounds, music was our statement of unity,” he says.
Talking about the concert this weekend, Anil says, “A multimedia presentation will ensure the audience gets both sonic and visual treat. When a potter’s wheel is shown on screen, the music will present the rhythm of the wheel and ‘Chinnanchiru kiliye’ will play to the visuals of a child playing,” he says.
Anil signs off reiterating the versatility of the piano, “Restrictions are all in the mind.”