SIFAS Festival 2006, Singapore
A roundup by S. Bala

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Kutcheri, Raga, Tala, Sahitya
Artistes, Composers, Lyrics
Tributes, Tidbits, Quizzes
Dance, Harikatha, Folk Music


[Editor's Note - The views and opinions expressed in this article are strictly those of the author, S. Bala]

O. S. Thiagarajan

The challenge for today’s Carnatic Musicians is to how to leave an imprint of a concert when there is a glut of offerings.

Some like O. S. Thiagarajan have an additional challenge since they do not depend on flashes of brilliance but an

orthodox copybook steady style. It is also tempting to take a populist route when it comes to new audiences overseas. 

I am glad that OST remains true to the tradition. With earnest unimpeachable craftsmanship throughout, OST’s

performance for SIFAS at the mammoth Esplanade hall in Singapore left a strong trail of Sowkhyam and Pandityam

without roughing each other. 

OST stuck to the well established contours – He almost sang only Trinity compositions, at least for the first two hours of the concert, including Nidhichala sukhama (Kalyani) as a surprise second item, he chose conventional suite of ragas and brought in a fine balance of proportion with four Raga essays, four complex but succinct swara journeys and enthused his co-artistes very well.  These are mere statistics and do not convey the Sowkhyam in the renditions.  I cannot do justice to this even with the best words of English.  It had to be experienced.

Varali was the shining piece, with a gamaka-laden alapana and the grand kriti ‘Kamakshi’ of Syama sastry embellished with his guru Sri TMT’s nuances in sangathis.  The other major elaborations in raga were Kedaragowlai (Nilakantam, Dikshitar), Hindolam (Samaja varagamana, Tyagaraja) and Shanmukhapriya (Ekambresa nayaki, Dikshitar).  Kedaragowlai and Shanmukhapriya had authenticity and skill written all over.  The welcoming feature in his ragas is the complete absence of any dubious or corruptive phrases that lean towards adjacent ragas.  OST’s voice was his greatest asset, staying true for nearly three hours. Sriram Kumar was the perfect foil especially in Varali and Shanmukhapriya – he added to the Sowkhyam even in the brisk phrases of the alapana, a trait he excels in.

Jugalbandhi – Dr N Ramani (Flute) and Pandit Vishwa Mohan Bhatt (Mohana veena)

Jugalbandhi has come to be the surrogate for fusion among foreign audiences, especially to woo more ears to the classical style.  While the format itself is very entertaining and justifies the inclusion in the festival, the performance sometimes borders the ‘ordinary’ as was the case on 11th March.  Dr. Ramani played a beautiful Harikambhoji (Sani Todi) in the individual segment of the concert and some like me in the audience would have yearned for more of that.  The joint effort in Pantuvarali (Purya dhanasri) was predictable, especially the Hindustani segment and was incommensurate with the occasion.  Music-neutral audiences tend to like rhythm and speed over melody and craft and were surely fed with that diet. Sometimes I wonder if the musicians are getting the right advice on what is expected from their concerts, even those involving ‘foreign’ audiences.  Ramani’s seamless mixing of ragams Pantuvarali, Mohanam, Kapi in the swara korvai was very artistic and helped steer the concert to safety. The overt rhythm slant was continued in the tani avarthanam of Mannargudi Easwaran and Ramkumar Mishra.

Alarmel Valli and Madhavi Mudgal – confluence

There is a view that pure art is mutually exclusive to commercial art.  Is this really true? How do you then explain the massive audiences (4000-5000 people sometimes) that yesteryear performers attracted and they did not practise commercial art in the current sense of the term?

The joint effort by Valli (Bharathanatyam) and Madhavi (Odissi) promised a great deal.  It is a rare combination and was the first ever such programme in Singapore.  It was amazing to see how the two great artistes found enough common ground between the two styles to present what was comparable to ‘Synchronized swimming’, sticking to their individual art nevertheless.  Madhavi’s piece heralding the vasant ritu was attractive. The dance programme appetized the senses.  The short duration meant an austere lighter version of what Valli is known for.

Bombay Jayashri Ramnath

A silky smooth voice, benefits of the Lalgudi association and an intellectual mind have rocketed Jayashri to the top echelons of Carnatic Music.  She has evolved a unique style placing melody and voice purity above everything else. This space has been vacant since MS stopped singing ten years ago.  Will Jayashri enhance this formula more and get to that lofty place? Time will tell.

Her concert, on the concluding day of the SIFAS festival at the Esplanade, oscillated between technical brilliance (Todi – Karthikeya Kangeya) and banal. The start was pedestrian, with simple renditions of Maya tirtha swaroopini (Mayamalava gowlai) and Seethapathe (Kamas) with simple sangathis, mostly sung once and it seemed like a Shraddhanjali concert.  Brief elements of her true scholarship were heard in the kriti Janani Ninnuvina (Ritigowlai) and the alapana, even if the neraval sounded as an afterthought.

Todi made up for all the soft start as Jayashri unleashed a rich array of sangathis, especially chosen from the Nadaswara style.  It was clear that she herself enjoyed it and gave it a longer lease than her otherwise crisp measure.  Jayashri presented a skilful neraval in ‘Velmaruvum amala Karakamala’ singing mostly in the upper octave.  Amba Neelayatakshi, the poignant Dikshitar kiiti in Nilambari was consistent with the slithering melody of her style.

Jayashri chose Nattakurinji for the Pallavi in Misra Triputa.  The preceding Todi orphaned the Pallavi, although Jayashri brought some life to it in the swara phase. Sriram Kumar joined the melody party – it almost seemed to suit his style perfectly.  He reveled in the Todi alapana and in the swara phase of the Pallavi.  Easwaran was reined in by Jayashri’s madhyama-vilamba kala anchor and used a more sedate soothing style.

S Bala, Music lover

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