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Aruna Sairam's Metropolitan Detroit Concert Review by Dr.K.K.Venkat

The much awaited, first ever concert by Mrs. Aruna Sairam in Metro Detroit took place on 5/4/2008 under the sponsorship of the GLAC. Mrs. Sairam has had a meteoric rise to superstardom in the field of Carnatic Music over the past decade with a large number of ardent and admiring fans both in India and abroad. She also has her share of detractors who consider her music too nontraditional, rendered in a voice lacking in melody with too much "body-language", and with a tendency to emphasize the popular rather than the more intricate aspects of classical music. My own experience in listening to her has been mixed. Some of her concerts have been sublime and exquisite: the very first recital of hers that I attended (at the Chennai Music Academy highlighted by an absolutely brilliant RTP in Shanmughapriya, with the pallavi "velai panivadhe en velai") and her Cleveland Thyagaraja Aradhana concert in March 2007 belong to this category of superb concerts. However, I have also attended recitals by her at Karthik Fine Arts and Krishna Gana Sabha in Chennai which can only be described as pedestrian.

Thus, as I walked into the Lawrence Technological University auditorium, the venue of her GLAC concert, I was not sure what to expect: a deeply moving musical experience or another average concert.

At the end of her recital, the adjective that came to my mind was "patchy". Some parts of the concert were of very high quality, especially the Dikshithar masterpiece "Sri Sathyanarayanam" in Subhapanthuvarali and the very innovative RTP in Madhyamavathi using the pallavi of the very popular Purandaradasa song "Bhagyatha Lashmi Baramma", followed by elaboration of different ragas using other verses from the same composition. Her trademark Marathi abhangs and "maadu maikkum kanna" were also rendered delightfully, and with great gusto. However, the rest of the concert left me feeling unfulfilled. I thought that the raga alapanas that preceded some of the pieces she rendered could have been more detailed. I also would have enjoyed listening to more elaborate niravals which were conspicuously lacking in this concert.

There was one other (nonmusical) aspect of this concert that left me dissatisfied: Mrs. Sairam announced an intermission right after the thani avardhanam and added that she would autograph her CDs purchased during the break. The purpose of the break was clearly to promote the sale of her CDs and I could not help feeling that this was an unnecessary commercial intrusion. All that an artist has to do to sell her music is to turn the audience on with a superb live performance. The resultant emotional high in the rasikas will invariably ensure brisk sales of the recorded music at the end of the concert.

I will be remiss if I fail to mention the outstanding contributions of the accompanying artists. H.N. Bhaskar on the violin and J. Vaidyanathan on mridangam were absolutely brilliant. The hallmark of a great accompanist is the ability to embellish the performance of the main artist without being intrusive. Bhaskar and Vaidyanathan certainly displayed this very high standard of excellence. I had listened to a very young Vaidyanathan for the first time in 1986 when he accompanied his father, Sangeetha Kalanidhi Sri. D.K Jayaraman in a concert at the University of Detroit . It is gratifying to see that he has evolved into an outstanding percussionist, fully living up to his training under Sangeetha Kalanidhi Sri. T.K. Murthy. Our own Sankar Krishnan also deserves special mention for his superb and flawless handling of the audio system during the concert.

GLAC’s O.S.Thyagarajan Concert Review by Bharati Dasika

GLAC started the year 2008 with a very good concert by Sri O.S. Thyagarajan at the University of Detroit Mercy, life sciences building on 5th of April. Sri Thyagarajan was accompanied by Sri B. Raghavendra Rao on Violin and Sri MurugaBoopathy on Mridangam.

He started the concert with the Adi Tala varnam “Sami Ninne Kori” in Sri Ragam. The first Kirtana is “enta ra nee daya” in Harikambhoji, set to Adi talam, a composition of Saint Tyagaraja was rendered with ease following a short alapana. The rasikas realized that they are in for a feast of music when he started alapana in Kalyani for the kirtana “Isa Pahimam” of the same composer set to roopaka talam.

This very rarely rendered kirtana, probably for the first time in Detroit was presented with a melodious alapana, vibrant gamakas and appropriate kalpana swarams. The third Thyagaraja swami composition “Eti Janmam idiha” in Varali set to Mishra Chapu talam was presented with elaborate and superb alapana. This kirtana, from Prahlada Bhakti Vijayam was rendered with impeccable bhava. He truly brought out the frustration expressed through the kirtana by the composer that the life that fails to visualize the lord Rama is not worth living. There was absolute silence in the auditorium and we saw many rasikas wiping off their tears during the rendition of this emotion filled piece.

Another rarely heard composition “Tamasamika Talanu” of Sri G. N. Balasubrahmanyam in raga Abhogi set to Roopaka talam, followed later. The alapana and swarakalpana were again elaborate and melodious. A brisk rendition of “nanu ganna talli” in Sindhu kannada was followed by yet another rarely heard kirtna, a composition of Sri Poochi Srinivasa Iyengar “Nee padamule gatiyani” in raga Navarasa Kannada. Both of these short pieces were set to Aditalam.

The Thodi - Ragam Thanam Pallavi (RTP) is set to Adi Talam (vilambit). Sri Thyagarajan revealed his well known love of Thodi during the melodious alapana that included Grahabhedam to Mohana and Nata Bhairavi. The piece was impeccable. The swarakalpana was made even more pleasing by excluding panchamam in between. The kalpanaswarams in Mohana. Hindolam, Behag and Surati were ecstatic. Thaniavartnam after RTP was followed by brisk rendition of “Eppo varu varo” in Jonpuri, a composition of Sri Gopalakrishna bharati.

The emotions were out again with the ragamalika rendition of slokam “Sri Raghavam Dasarathatmajam aprameyam” in Madhuvanti, Bhageswari, Sindhu bhairavi and Revathi followed by “Hanumane” a compostion of Swami Surajananda concluded the concert in a most fulfilling way.

Sri Thyagarajan’s style is original, aesthetic with shruti sudham, long korvais and vibrant gamakas. He lived up to his reputation of an artist that is always capable of enthralling audience with rare Kirtanas in pure traditional style. Sri B. Raghavendra Rao was outstanding in providing violin support. It was really a treat to hear his responsible and matching performance with ease. He revealed his command on the instrument during RTP by playing one note on two strings at a time. He played with precision and vastly enhanced the beauty of this concert.

Sri MurugaBoopathy, was very good on Mridangam. His technical skills never lagged behind. The Thani avartanam is masterly. Overall the team work is creditable. The artists received a well deserved standing ovation at the end of concert. This spring concert enthralled the audience and if this is any indication, we are likely to have a fantastic year of carnatic classical music in Detroit.

GLAC’s Gayathri Concert Review by Lalitha Ravichandran

Gayathri Venkatraghavan’s concert for Great Lakes Aradhana Committee, on Saraswathi Puja Day, October 20, 2007 was captivating.

A crystal clear voice trained to sing in an open throated style with a range spreading over the three octaves from the mandhra sthyai upto tara sthayi, in addition to impeccable shruti shuddham and exemplary diction are Gayathri’s assets which she called upon to deliver a bhavam filled rendition sans gimmicks. Gayathri’s voice withstands the rigors she puts it through whether in delivering intricate gamakams, sangathis requiring to be sung with azhuttham or in singing a quick succession of kalpana swarams without loss of tonal quality Befitting the occasion, Gayathri started the concert with an invocation to Goddess Saraswathi in her rendition of the Sanskrit Shlokam “Yaakundendu Tushara Haara davala” A quick varnam in Bahudari was followed by a Papanasam Sivan krithi, Saraswathi Annaiye in Kharaharapriya. She rounded off the krithi with a couple of brisk rounds of kalpana swarams at Sakala Kala Valli.

Begada Alapana which came next was well elaborated. She took us by surprise with a rendition of a rarely heard compostion of Syama Shastri in this raga, Sami Ninne Nammitirara – a composition on MuthukumaraSwami, the presiding deity of Vaitheeswaran Koil.

She followed this up with another rare piece in Jothiswarupini, Gana Rasamuda, a composition of Koteeswara Iyer and a Devagandhari Krithi on Sharada. A brisk rendition of Makela Vicharamu, a Thyagaraja composition in the raagam Ravichandrika was a welcome change of pace.

The piece de resistance of the concert was the Navarathri Krithi of Swathi Thirunal in Bhairavi, Janani Maamavameva. The krithi was preceded by an excellent alapana of Bhairavi with all traditional prayogams. The composition itself is a grand piece in Bhairavi with solkattu swarams during the rendition of which Manoj Siva’s playing embellished the piece.

Gayathri took up Shanmukhapriya for elaborate delineation as part of the RTP. The alapana was developed in stages in a traditional manner including some madhyama kala phrases which embellished the presentation. The Pallavi, set to Khanda Jati Triputa Thaalam is a composition of Gayathri’s guru, Shri Sundaresan and is on Lord Shri Rama. The taanam and Pallavi were rendered in an traditional manner and included anulomam and tisram following which ragamalika swarams were rendered in Shanmukhapriya, Vasantha,Ranjani and Behag.

Akkarai Subhalakshmi provided melodious accompaniment on the violin and her alapanas of Bhairavi and Shanmukapriya were noteworthy. Her swara repartees gave ample scope for her manodharmam and exhibited her technical skills. Manoj Siva acquitted himself creditably in the Thani Avartanam and provided unobtrusive accompaniment to the songs.

The post pallavi pieces included among other krithis, Saagara Shayana Vibho, a composition of MDR in Bageshri, a viruttam followed by Subramania Bharati’s Vellai Thamarai in Bhimpalas and a Thillana in Khamas.

The concert which had lasted around 3.5 hours came to a conclusion with the rendition of the mangalam after which the audience erupted into a standing ovation which was well deserved. Overall it was an impressive presentation by Gayathri Venkatraghavan ably supported by Akkarai Subhalakshmi and Manoj Siva.

GLAC’s Malladi Concert Review by Charu Shankar
The Malladi Brothers concert on November 4, 2007 at Lawrence Tech. Univ. Auditorium

On November 4th, 2007, the Lawrence Tech. University auditorium reverberated with truly captivating music by The Malladi Brothers and Party. They commenced their performance with a brisk Varnam in Ragam Nattakurinji. This was followed by a krithi in Ragam Supradeepam. This Tyagaraja krithi was new, refreshing and melodious. Raga Alapana in Simhendramadhyamam was developed very methodically. The Dikshitar Krithi, Pamarajana Palini was bhava filled. The rendition of this krithi made a distinct impact with its chiseled and ornamental sangathis. After the rendition of Sri Balasubramanya in Bilahari and Kotinadulu in Todi, The Malladi brothers chose the deeply soul-filling Saveri to be the main piece of their repertoire. The Tyagaraja Krithi “Raama Baana Traana” was beautiful. Their absolute command over the Manodharma aspects of music was evident here. The Raga Alapana was built up at a gradual, leisurely pace moving up to a crescendo.

Intricate, lightning speed Kalpanaswarams delivered to absolute precision and perfection in turn by the two brothers was simply delightful. The Ragam, Thanam, Pallavi in Charukesi was truly enchanting! The delineation of this beautiful raga was marvelous. The lyrical beauty of the Pallavi “Manamohana Hare Madhava Madhusoodana” set to Thisra Jathi Triputa Talam, was enhanced by the melodious swara patterns– in keeping with the tranquil, yet vibrant mood of the entire rendition. This was followed by colorful ragamalika swarams in Mohanam, Suddhasarang and Hindolam. The final pieces kept the audience enthralled, engrossed and moved. The Annamacharya Krithi “Mayamohamo” in Ragam Jog, was set to music by The Malladi Brothers’ father Sri.Suri Babu. It had a rhythmic appeal to it. The Purandara Dasa krithi in Jonpuri provided all of us a glimpse of Lord Sri Rama. The krithi in Anandabhairavi was enjoyable. Neelambari, with its graceful and soothing pace followed by the beautiful mangalam piece provided a wonderful finale to a very memorable concert.

Endowed with a rich, dynamic and a resonant voice, the Malladi brothers are at total ease and in complete control traversing higher as well as the lower octaves.

Sri.Embar Kannan provided superb accompaniment on the violin. The audience swayed to every nuance produced by the lilting notes on the violin. The tani avartanam by Sri.Neyveli Narayanan was a sheer delight. The entire performance was a breathtaking cascade of music which will linger in our hearts for a very long time!

GLAC’s Maharajapuram Concert Review by Sankar Krishnan
Vintage Music by Shri. Maharajapuram Ramachandran

Connoisseurs of carnatic music in Detroit were treated to a pure and traditional style concert on 15th October at Lawrence Technology University by Shri Maharajapuram Ramachandran. Singing to a packed audience, Shri. Ramachandran brought us nostalgic memories of his illustrious father Late Shri. Maharajapuram santhanam. With his powerful resonant voice which exactly sounded like listening to his father, Shri. Ramachandran took us through a musical journey and at the end of it most of us wished it was longer.

The main piece was ‘ Manasu Swadheena’ in Sankarabaranam set to Misra chapu. The only disappointment was that there was no Ragam Tanam Pallavi even though it was compensated by elaborate ‘viruthams’ in Brindavana saranga, Hameer kalyani and Neelambari. Later, Shri. Ramachandran mentioned to me that he had planned for an RTP but decided against it as the clock showed 6.30PM after the main piece. Being a Sunday evening he was sensitive to the needs of the audience to get home early.

Shri. Nagai Muralidharan and Mannargudi Easwaran provided excellent support on Violin and Mridangam respectively. I specifically enjoyed the way Shri. Easwaran played for the ‘Neelambari’ krithi on Lord Guruvayoorappan. Listening to it, I felt as if I was at Guruvayoor witnessing the procession of the Lord atop the decorated elephants. Being a regular concert goer for the last 18 years, only during the last few years I have started understanding the important role Mridangist plays in a concert. The role of a mridangist is not just maintaining rhythm or ‘sarva laghu’ as it is technically called. The mridangist has to understand the mood of the song, anticipate the sangati and accordingly vary the pattern. And, indeed, there is melody in rhythm too. It was great to see that the crowd appreciated this aspect unlike the crowd in Chennai sabhas who take a ‘rest room’ break during the ‘thani avarthanam’ I know that there are many aspiring parents in Detroit who want their children to perform on stage.

Exposure of such authentic music to these budding artists would indeed help them to achieve greater heights. Great Lakes Aradhana Committee’s goal is to bring such authentic style music to our community and we were glad to see that several non-members came for the concert.

GLAC’s Sudha Concert Review by Mohana Chandran

Sudha Raghunathan, a leading Carnatic music vocalist and a most accomplished artist, gave a captivating and outstanding performance on Sunday, November 19th at Lawrence Technological University. This grand finale concert for the year 2006 was organised by GLAC of metro Detroit. She was accompanied by Sri Ragavendra Rao (Violin), Sri Neyveli Skandasubramaniam (Mridangam) and Sri Raman (Mohrsing).

Sudha Raghunathan is a disciple of legendary M. L.Vasanthakumari. Her melodious voice, superb style and tremendous talent came together in this most electrifying performance. Sudha had a remarkably charming stage appearance and a powerful repertoire in GNB - MLV tradition! The auditorium was packed and the concert was filled with melody, bhavam, bhakti, technical excellence and manodharmam (improvisation). The selection of ragas and compositions were by well known composers including Dr. Rukamani Ramani (the daughter of the great Tamil composer Sri Papanasam Sivan). Sudha’s performance was crisp, creative and enjoyable to the entire spectrum of the audience, which ranged from the knowledgeable vidwans to the lay audience rasikas.

Sudha started the concert with Guru dyana slokam, followed by the Varnam – Vanajakshi in Kalyani set to Khanda Jati Ata talam. The next piece was Sri Papanasam Sivan’s Sri Vatapi Ganapatiye in the ragam Sahana, which was rendered beautifully and was a treat to the Tamil kirtanai fans! Sudha’s voice warmed up after the first two items and her rendition of Mysore Maharaja Jayachamaraja Wodeyar’s Sri Jalandara in Gambiranattai, set to Adi thalam left the audience ecstatic and eager to hear more. The next song was Dikshitar’s Renuka Devi Samrakshithoham Anisam in Kannada Bangala followed by Srimathi Rukamani Ramani’s composition Ninaippadi Ninai Vanangi in the raga Dwijavanti. Aside from her amazing musical performance, Sudha connected well with the audience by announcing the raga, tala and composer information in-between pieces. These unique features that she adds to her performances make them all the more memorable to the audience. Sudha sang the favorite Janani Ninnuvina in the ragam Ritigowla set to Misra Chapu talam (by Sri Subbaraya Sasthri, the son of the great composer Sri Shyama Sastri).

Furthermore, she rendered the kriti starting from Anupallavi, which made this piece even more melodious! After that Sudha sang an elaborate Raga alapana in Shankarabaranam followed by the Thayagraja kriti Etula Nila Chite in Adi talam with a lengthy swara kalpana. Step by step she developed the raga with beautiful prayogams and technical excellence, keeping the audience in full attention! Sudha displayed her excellent voice range, depth, discipline, perfection and vidwat in her raga alapana and kalpana swaram.

After this piece requests from the audience started pouring in! By now Sudha’s performance went over three hours! The artiste as well as the audience were captivated by the heavenly music! Looking at the requests Sudha asked the audience whether they would like her to present some lighter devotional pieces or Ragam, Tanam and Pallavi. She received a mixed response, so she briefly sang Badrachala Ramadasar’s Kamalanayana Vasudeva. Following requests from the audience and the tradition of kacheri paddhati, she presented the Ragam, Tanam and Pallavi in Simhendra Madyamam. Sudha’s voice was at its best in this prati madyama ragam! The raga alapana and the kalpanaswaras in all the three octaves were gleaming with beauty! The pallavi niraval “Sri Krishna Ganam Venu Ganam Madura Ganam” was well executed in Misra Jati Triputa talam. It was very enjoyable when she sang the ‘famous first lines’ of Oothukkadu Venkatasubbayyar’s compositions in the ragamalika as part of the pallavi in the ragas Kambodhi, Thodi, Kanada and Natakuranji.

Afterwards Sudha rendered the popular composition Thaye Yasodha (which is usually sung in Todi) in the ragamalika in Kunthalavarali, Todi, Pilu and Sindubaiaravi! Sudha also sang the famous Purandara Dasa’s Jagadoddarana in Kapi and the delightfully devotional composition of Smt. Rukamani Ramani’s Parthasarathi in the raga Sumanesa Ranjani (the prati madhyama raga version of Suddhadhanyasi). Sudha’s unique presentation of this piece was one of a kind and a rare treat indeed. Sudha also performed the emotionally stirring Sai bajan Man Ki Ankhen Kolo, which brought tears into the eyes of the audience. She presented the bajan with so much bhakthi and bhavam, elevating the audience to a higher level! Accompanists are equally important for a successful vocal music concert. Sri B. Raghavendra Rao, disciple of Sri T.N. Krishnan, gave a wonderful accompaniment on the violin, winning the audience’s applause! Sri Neyveli Skanda Subramaniam on the Mridangam and Sri Raman on the Mohrsing provided high quality rhythmic support and presented the well executed thani avartanam with interesting exchanges. There was a very good understanding between the performing artists on stage. The artists brought out the best in each other through their improvisations and strives to attain musical perfection.

The culmination of these talents concluded the performance with a standing ovation from the audience. The four hour concert by Sudha exceeded the expectations of a full house once again! It is no surprise that she is one of the most famous and talented Carnatic vocalists today!

GLAC’s Navarathri Celebration Concert Review by Nurani Shivaram

The Great Lakes Aradhana committee had arranged a music concert of Madurai R. Sundar for their annual Navarathri celebration 2006. Sri. Sundar came up with an astounding three and half hour concert on Sept. 9th at the Troy, Bharatiya Temple.

With the very first Varnam of GNB in the Ragam Ranjini, Sri Sunder built up a rapport with the audience (more than expected turnout), and there was not a single dull moment in the concert, and every one was glued to their seats and enjoyed the fare. Befitting the occasion of the forthcoming Navarathri festival Sri Chamundeswari Krithi in Bilahari (Mysore Vasudeva Char) and Vijayambike in Vijayanagari (Muthiah Bhagavathar) both of which were sung at my request were exquisitely rendered with verve and vigor. Undoubtedly, the pick of the evening’s concert was the rendering of the Ragam Kamboji, the soulful singing of Ratna Kanjuka Darini (Muthiah Bhagavathar Krithi), the elaborate Niraval “Mruthubhashini Indu Kesara Hari kesa sundharaanga”, and the highly imaginative and intricate Swara Prasthas. The RTP in Sunder’s favorite Ragam Darmavathi was equally good followed by series of ragas in the Pallavi.

Jaishankar and Vinod gave admirable support and heightened the level of the concert.  All in all, it was a feast of music and thanks again to GLAC. My best wishes to them in their forthcoming

GLAC’s Unnikrishnan Concert Review by Prof. V. Rajagopala Iyer

As a Carnatic music rasika now on a visit to U.S., I had the opportunity to attend the vocal music  concert of Shri Unnikrishnan and party held on Saturday the 31st March under the auspices of G L A C.
The concert started with a Naattai varnam following which came the tamizh kirtanai Sivalokanathanai kandu in Mayamalavagowla reminiscent of late Dandapani Dhesikar. The mukhari alapana which followed was emotively soaked and the Thygaraja krithi entha nine sabhari, a Musiri’s forte was rendered in a leisurely pace. Shri Unnikrishnan had fully warmed up by this time and next came Bhaagaya Naiya, preceded by a detailed alapana of Chandrajoythi. If, at this stage, the singer had inserted a fast pace keerthana, without alapana or swara prasthara, it would have injected some much-needed tempo into the concert, and livened it up. But, Shri Unnikrishnan chose a detailed rendering of Bilahari. Of course, Dorakuna in adhi tala two kalai was majestic with elaborate neraval at Rama Bhramam. Shri Vittal Ramamurthy’s violin was throughout mellifluous and unobtrusive. He accompanied the singer like a shadow. The piece de resistance of the evening concert was a R.T.P in kharaharapriya and Unnikrishnan exhibited his technical virtuosity by doing a short demonstration of “grahabedham” ( a modal shift of tonic) thereby showing glittering flashes of Harikhamboji, Shankarabharanam, and Thodi. The pallavi in kanda jathi thriputa thalam was followed by a crisp thani avarthanam in mridangam. Sri Vinod Seetharaman acquitted himself creditably and he embellished the concert by his judicious performance. Contrary to everbody’s expectations, the post- tani session was also filled with slow- paced items in Kosalam, Yamunakalyani, Dwijavanti, and Sindhu Bharavi, with the sole exception of Bhramamokate. When the three hour concert came to an end, the audience gave Shri Unnikrishnan and party a full three minute standing ovation where in, to my great surprise, some “chitty” ( whistling) thrice repeated, made me forget for a brief moment that I am in U.S attending a classical concert.

Prof. V. Rajagopala Iyer (rajagopalan2007@gmail.com)

Prof. Rajagopala Iyer is a retired Professor of French and has been the principal force behind “Bhairavi –
A Carnatic music Circle” in Pondicherry, India for the last 25 years. He also has authored 4 books in Tamil on the history of French Literature in addition to numerous articles published in Tamil, English and French.


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