Monday, May 14, 2018

A Perfect Evening’s Fare

All of us have experienced many a memorable meal. Most often, they are memorable because of the inclusion of a dish we had not experienced before or because one dish in that meal was exceptional. It is rare that a meal becomes memorable because the courses were just right and the overall experience was perfect without any single dish dominating the palate. The Austin concert of Ramakrishnan Murthy was one such.
Ramakrishnan Murthy is one of the leaders of the youth brigade of carnatic music, all of whom show tremendous potential and artistry. Although based out of Chennai these days, he was brought up in California and so his current tour in the US is more of a home coming. He sang in Austin on May 11th in a program organized by India Fine Arts and was accompanied by the talented Charumathi Raghuraman on the violin and the experienced mridangist Manoj Siva.
Ram started the concert with the brisk Chalamela varnam in Shankarabharanam. After wishing the moms in the crowd a very happy mother’s day weekend, he sang Kanchadalayadakshi in Kamala Manohari (Ram mentioned the Ragam as Manohari though) and followed it with Marivere in Ananda Bhairavi. I was expecting the concert to continue with a Devi flavor but he chose to present Manavyaala in Nalinakanti next.
The main piece of the concert was a glorious rendition of Kaapaali in Mohanam. The ragam, delivered in an unhurried sedate fashion and crisp swaram singing were the highlights. My in laws, who are Mylapore natives, were super thrilled with the choice of the krithi and mentioned they longed to have a darshan of Kaapaali. And as though he heard their comment, Ram launched a moving Mukhari beseeching Shiva’s kindness by asking Endraikku Shiva Krupai Varumo, an apt choice to follow that majestic Mohanam.
The second half of the concert featured the Purandaradasa song Entha Cheluvage. A wistful viruttam, a song by Thaayumaanavar — Pannen Unakkana Poosai was next. Ram effortlessly moved through Behag, Dhanyasi, Begada, Kaapi, Atana, Nilambari and Bowli before concluding it in Sindhu Bhairavi and singing Visweshwar Darshan Kar in that ragam. He concluded the concert with the thiruppughaz Maalasai Kopam in Jonpuri and a Kamas thillana.
Charumathi Raghuraman provided excellent support following Ram through the concert and showcasing her skill when it was her turn to play. There were delectable exchange of ideas between them throughout the concert and the chemistry between them was obvious. I always admire Manoj Siva for his sensitive playing of the mridangam and it was at the forefront in this concert as well. His understanding of the krithis reflected in the way he played throughout the evening. The thaniavarthanam he played was short and delectable.
To me the best part of the concert was the serene music that the team provided. There was no unnecessary fireworks, no adrenalin inducing ups and downs. It was simple, genuine music of the highest quality. I wish Ram continues in this fashion and I am sure he will reach the pinnacle in his profession soon.
Even after the best of meals, we always will have a comment on what could have been better and here is my list. For us, away from India, the opportunity to hear artists of this caliber is quite limited. A two and a half hour concert does not sate us and we wish if it could be for an hour more, at the least. That would have given time for a Ragam Thanam Pallavi, which was the only missing item in this otherwise perfect concert. Ram, now that he has the guidance of RK Shriramkumar, should include a couple of rarer krithis in such concerts rather than sticking with ever popular krithis. Also, an addition of a upa pakka vadhyam would have brought in another rhythmic dimension and the organizers would do well to make that a standard practice.
Overall it was a very satisfying evening. I thank Ram, Charumathi and Manoj for their music and the organizers for bring them to Austin.