Chennai

A night at the opera

‘Sound Unbound,’ students of A. R. Rahman's KM Music Conservatory performing. Photos: B. Jothi Ramalingam

‘Sound Unbound,’ students of A. R. Rahman's KM Music Conservatory performing. Photos: B. Jothi Ramalingam   | Photo Credit: B_JOTHI RAMALINGAM

‘Sound Unbound’ was a mesmerising journey through three unique musical acts, writes Deepa Alexander

Young Lydian Nadhaswaram leans over the Yamaha grand piano, as if in embrace. The screen above captures his long fingers as they tickle the ivories, giving sound to two pieces — ‘Flood Time’ and the intricate ‘Flight of the Bumblebee’ — that proclaim the kind of remarkable musicians A.R. Rahman’s KM Music Conservatory has been showcasing these past few years.

‘Sound Unbound’, held recently at the Sir Mutha Venkatasubba Rao Concert Hall, featured some of its top students and alumni, melding the worlds of opera, Russian piano and acapella.

Performed to a packed audience and with a stunning backdrop of gilt-touched Baroque halls, strobe lights and Chaitanya Rao’s period costume, the first act was by one of the conservatory’s newest ensembles, Sempre Libera, directed by Adam Greig. Singers Alisha Thomas, Bhavani Gaythri, Poorvi Koutish, Anuj Dimri and Chetan Rao, with impressive pianism by Hrisheek Ganesh and Mohamed Shameer, criss-crossed centuries with songs from well-loved operas such as ‘Lakme’ (‘Flower Duet’) and ‘Carmen’ (‘Habanera’) to West End classics such as ‘Les Miserables’ (‘I Dreamed a Dream’) and ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ (theme song). Their voices were hurled across the hall, rising and falling in grand operatic style, interweaving love, longing, loss and scurrilous laughter in comic drama. The 12 songs in their repertoire, concluding with the Andrea Bocelli-Sarah Brightman standard, ‘Time to Say Goodbye’, had moments of melodic magnificence interspersed with bursts of improvisation.

The piano has often been considered the instrument that has most propelled the sound of Western music. Usually played with a straight-backed and detached physical manner, there is, however, the Russian technique that allows the pianist to move hands and body, lending the recital the languorous quality of a leaping ballerina.

‘Hands on Fire,’ directed by Surojeet Chatterji, had seven performers who pinned the audience to their seats with their musical interpretation and the pyrotechnics of their playing.

Some of the pieces were scholarly — ‘Third Movement’ of Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight Sonata’ by Puneet Sharma, Weber’s ‘Scherzo’ by Nitin Dongare and Chopin’s ‘Fantasie Impromptu’ by Ashwath Subramaniam, while others were driven by the beauty of their delivery — young Jacob Samuel’s rendition of Waldteufel’s ‘Skater’s Waltz’, Chopin’s ‘Raindrop Prelude’ by Rameshwar Patidar and Burgmuller’s ‘Arabesque’ by Saran Kumar. And, the ‘Flight of the Bumblebee,’ played blindfolded, was on the playlist simply to showcase extraordinary talent. Through the deftness of the players, the piano sang the smoky ballads and swinging rhythms with equal grace.

The concert’s carnival mood was set by NAFS, the popular acapella group that has performed to critical acclaim. In a halo of psychedelic lights and futuristic costumes, the eight voices under the direction of Arjun Chandy in top hat and coat tails, blended and separated to bring music filled with rhythm, colour and nostalgia. Their core sound was in harmony as they explored much-loved classics such as ‘Route 66’, ‘Georgia on My Mind’, and ‘Tauba Tauba’, a Carnatic piece, and a host of Rahman hits from ‘O Humdum’ to ‘Rangeela Re.’ Their showpiece was the hit song, ‘Rasathi’ from ‘Thiruda Thiruda.’

A rollercoaster of a song for acapella, NAFS delved into it pitch perfect without robbing the poignancy of the original. But some songs are best left untouched, such as Rahman’s version of ‘Vande Mataram’.

NAFS’ strident choral notes did little to rouse the same fervour.

Although long at three hours, and with the odd rough-edged presentation, the concert went down a storm. There’s a word for these kind of performers — gifted.

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Printable version | Jul 13, 2020 5:08:21 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/chennai/a-night-at-the-opera/article8417841.ece

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