Musical collaborations turn out to be a harmony, when the artists involved are in it for the pure thrill of the possibilities together. It sure is even more exciting when the instruments are as diverse as, say, a Kanjivaram saree and a tuxedo. 'The String masters', presented by Aalaap, Chennai, was one such unique collaboration between Dr. Jayanthi Kumaresh on the veena and Anil Srinivasan on the piano, supported and complemented by Giridhar Udupa on the ghatam and Pramath Kiran on the tabla and morsing.
The evening started with a might and magnificence enough to indicate a musical downpour, with Muthuswami Dikshitar's ‘Anandamritakarshini’. It was an exciting choice to start an evening attributed to 'tracing the evolution of form', with a composition by Dikshitar, one of the early vainikas to popularise the playing of the Saraswati Veena placed horizontally. The soulful rendition of the Thyagaraja kriti 'Nannu Vidichi' in Reetigowlai that followed, metaphorised the holding of one's breath to finding a deep-sea pearl, and the other parallels drawn by the composer.
Kamas, the third raga of the evening, was that quick respite from the musical intensity that was built up in the first half of the concert, and 'Sitapate' was that familiar kriti that the audience could hum along. The Ragam Tanam followed by a Thani Avarthanam by the percussionists, was a beautiful improvisation that brought together an eclectic patchwork of Simendramadhyamam, Nalinakanthi, Saraswati, Sindubhairavi and Madhyamavati. The thillana in Raga Maand was a perfect note to finish the evening. The musicians nonchalantly exchanged roles , sometimes rehearsed, sometimes spontaneous, a staccato phrase in one instance, a gamaka in another, a riff here, a filler there, drifting off momentarily into their musical galaxies, and then converging seamlessly into harmony. It was a treat, difficult to characterise, just as music should be.
One could not but not notice the artists on the ghatam and tabla calling for attention, in the way they skilfully displayed their mettle and complemented the music, and sensitively underplayed where necessary. Watching the movement of the musicians' fingers, particularly with the piano facing the audience, was an extra layer of joy. Comments on the musicians' nimble fingers and the dexterity would be impotent understatements to the ecstatic music of the evening.
The harmony in the collaboration was tangible, not just through the beautiful music, thanks also to the lovely acoustics at Jagriti Theatre, Bengaluru, but also in the way the musical buck was passed like a gentle feather being blown from one musician to another, accompanied by exchanging of glances with a challenge thrown, or just a smile with a beautiful phrase acknowledged. The effortlessness in the collaboration was palpable. “What I enjoy most about this collaboration is that it is not binding. One can explore spontaneously and seamlessly the scope of both instruments and after a point we just sit there and watch the instruments talk,” shared Jayanthi Kumaresh. This resonated with Anil’s thoughts on the collaboration as well which said, “There is something beautiful about not trying to overthink things. Of doing something because it feels true. Because it is simple. Because it is natural. That is how the piano and veena resonate. We do nothing. They do most of the work.”
The musicians nonchalantly exchanged roles , sometimes rehearsed, sometimes spontaneous