This year the Sydney Music Festival had many programmes and events of which I was able to attend a few.
The sessions I attended were chosen carefully to fit my taste. One of the first day performances which intrigued me most was the staging of Veera Mani Iyer’s Kadhirkama Kuravanji, previously musically arranged by a well known dancer Saraswathi Sundaresan.
From the outset the courage and drive to bring this to fruition by Hamsa Venkat saw the import of the dance tableau in the already hectic schedule of three days of this year’s festival
Despite the politics that pollutes any production these days anywhere in the world, a production that was normally three hours or more was shortened for this purpose to just one hour. A lot of talking then saw a cast who pride themselves in their respective lineages come together.
This collaboration is perhaps the first in the commercial arena that sees dancers of slightly different schools bring a production together to fruition in Sydney. The dancers involved were Hamsa Venkat, Gayatri Krishnamoorthy, Aruna Gandhimathinathan, Chidambaram Suresh and his wife Shobana and students of Hamsa Venkat and Gayathri Krishnamoorthy.
The Scenes were beautifully executed and choreographed by all each finding a section and a role to play. Hamsa Venkat as the fortune teller, Gayatri Krishnamoorthy as the agreeable sakhi, and Aruna Gandhimathinathan as the argumentative and cheeky friend, Shobhana as the young lass who is in love with Vishnu, and Vishnu portrayed by Chidambaram Suresh did justice to their respective roles.
The legend Balamurali Krishna performed that evening accompanied by RK Shriram Kumar on the violin and K Murugabhoopathy on the mridangam with OS Arun and Shashi Kiran on the Tanpura. What was to be a legend singing a great concert became a long commentary interrupted by his divine music. The commentary given by Saraswathi Sundaresan whilst punched with the right amount of pizzazz failed to impress true music lovers who would have preferred to hear more from the legend himself. Balamurali Krishna presented raga composed by himself called Siddhi, set to Adhi thalam, a four note raga in praise of Lord Ganesha. He then sang ‘Yentharo mahanubhavulu’ Thyagaraja’s kriti, followed by another four note composition in Raga Lavangi, in ‘Om Kaarakarini’ with raga vistharam and swarams. After singing raag Kaamavardhini, the great musician then brought ‘Pibare Rama Rasam’ to life which was exquisite. He finished with ‘Varage Varage, and in a finale finished with his own composition, a thillana. Whilst his age defying music is a blessing to hold and uphold, the experience for me was tarnished by the constant interrupting commentary. Shriram Kumar on the violin was sadly under utilized.
Dr Pantula Rama’s concert the next day in the afternoon saw the introduction of a new and young voice in this year’s festival. Her main piece was Karaharapriya in Chakkani raja, a beautiful neraval on ‘Kantiki Sundara Roopame” hit its mark. She introduced a carnatic raga ‘Kalavathi’ performing a Ragam thanam pallavi in ‘Sri Sakala Kalavathi Saraswathi, Su swaralaya mitha maamava”.
Shashank, who was the only one to get a standing ovation, conquered this year with his Kalyani RTP ‘Guruguhane Ninane Shanmughane” set to 9 beats preceded by a thodi varnam and the composition of Jaya Jaya Janaki kantha in Ragam Natai. His partnership with both his violinist and mridangist made for a well balanced presentation amplified by Shashank’ s production of two or three notes concurrently in high speed. Despite this gimmick, Shashank stole my heart with the introduction of Bageshree as a variation to the RTP.
TM Krishna’s experimental approach to his music continues whose delayed start after the finish of Shashank’s performance apparently created some behind the scene tension. TM Krishna was accompanied by his violinist Shriram Kumar, and Mannargudi Easwaran on Mridangam. TM Krishna’s music was introspective and withdrawn. A full and exhaustive exploration of Mayamalavagowlai saw the coming of life of Muthuswami Dikshidar’s composition. He accompanied the presentation with a cookie which the audience lapped up, demonstrating the great composer’s approach to this composition and the seemless swara palindrome that arose in the charanam of this composition.
A heavy Karaharapriya made its presence felt in three octaves as TMK traversed the highs and lows with seeming yet slow ease. Then followed an RTP in beautiful words “Parthadum Manam Mayanginan Pavayum Paarvayai” in what was probably ragam Varali. TMK’s performance finished with a beautiful Yamuna Kalyani that kept ringing in my ears.
If TMK’s music was soulful and restful to the ear, the third day saw Sudha Raghunathan spirited performance bring her genre of music alive with the main ragam in Bhairavi, in Bala Gopala Palaya Shumam, neraval and musical elaboration on Neela Neeradha stole the show. She finished her concert with the tamil composition of Arunagirinadhar in Yeppadi Padinaro.