Dhwani-BKF Music Festival 2013
What health is to body and mind, music is to the mind and soul; it can enrich our lives. Tuned to this thought, the Bangalore Kidney Foundation (BKF) launched Dhwani-BKF Pt. Mallikarjun Mansur Hindustani Music festival some years ago. The dialysis centre at the Rangadore Memorial Hospital (an initiative of BKF and Sri Sringeri Sharada Peetham Charitable Trust) is one of the largest dialysis centres and caters mostly to poor patients. It offers its services free of cost or at subsidised rates.
The story behind the Dhwani-BKF Music Festival is an interesting one. When the famous Jaipur-Atrauli musician, Mallikarjun Mansur was brought to BKF’s Dialysis Centre with complaints of renal dysfunction, he was immediately put on dialysis and given treatment. He was so impressed with the treatment, the affection and attitude of the hospital staff, that against all medical advice he decided to present a concert and donate the proceeds to BKF as a gesture of goodwill. Later, in spite of their best efforts, it was not possible to save the maestro. The BKF has been paying homage to this kindhearted musician every year by organising the Dhwani-BKF music festival in his memory.
Over the years, the BKF festival has featured famous musicians like Shivkumar Sharma, Kishori Amonkar, Ashwini Bhide, Shubha Mudgal, Viswa Mohan Bhatt, Dhondutai Kulkarni, N. Rajam, Ulhas Kashalkar, and Malini Rajurkar.
The Dhwani-BKF music festival 2013 was held at the JSS Auditorium in Jayanagar, Bengaluru on 21st and 22nd September and featured artists like Aarti Anklekar, Ashwini Bhide Deshpande, and Viswa mohan Bhatt. Dr. Ashwini Bhide also received the prestigious Pt. Mallikarjun Mansur Award for the year 2013.
Aarti Anklekar performed on the opening evening with Ravindra Yavagal (tabla) and Ravindra Katoti (harmonium). Her training under Vasantrao Kulkarni of the Agra and Gwalior gharanas, Kishori Amonkar of the Jaipur-Atrauli gharana, and from Dinakar Kaikini were reflected in her music. She started the evening with raga Lalit-Gauri, a raga often rendered by Mallikarjun Mansur. Aarti handled the sancharas beautifully and her open and steady voice brought out the melody with clarity. The flow of fast taans, with flashes of both the madhyama swaras, was truly melodic. Yavagal, with his excellent rhythm, and Katoti with his mellifluous support complemented the vocal presentation. Aarti also presented ragas Durga, Hemant and a tarana. The jhoola in Misra Yaman, Aao sab sakhiyan was enjoyable. She concluded the concert with raga Bhairavi, a tappa and a bandish set to Teen tala. Mention must be made of her disciple Meghna Kulkarni who gave admirable support all along.
On the morning of 22nd September, Ashwini Bhide gave an unforgettable performance of morning ragas. She explored the serene beauty of Lalit and steadily built it up with a vilambit, then Jagiye Nandalala in madhya laya, and a drut Ab to jago Kanhaiya – her own compositions. The speciality of her music is that it has so much bhava – as she sang, you could experience mother Yasoda’s deep love for Krishna. Ashwini’s voice traversed the three octaves with ease and the effect was stunning as she touched the tara sthayi panchama. The elaborate rendering of Lalit was a treat on a beautiful morning. She sang Deshkar, then Jonpuri – soft and soothing in the madhya laya bandish and brilliant in the drut taans. Ashwini concluded her recital with raga Suddha Sarang. In the vilambit, set to Roopak tala, the alap was pure, her sanchar in the poorvanga was melodic and meditative. She excelled in the drut in Teen tala, and the taans came like a downpour, much to the delight of the audience. She was accompanied by Ravindra Yavagal (tabla) and Ravindra Katoti (harmonium), who provided excellent support. She has a good disciple in Nishad who received a lot of encouragement from the guru during the concert.
Mention must be made of the discerning audience at the festival. When Ashwini asked them whether she should conclude with a bhajan, abhang or another raga, the audience – after listening for almost three hours – wanted another classical raga. The rapport between the artist and the audience added to the beauty and serenity of the concert.
Vishwa Mohan Bhatt enthralled the audience for nearly three hours on his Mohan Veena on 22nd September. His rendering of raga Yaman evoked lovely images and was followed by a short pleasing lori in Jaijaivanti. In response to audience request, Vishwa Mohan Bhatt sang Saiyyan even as he played on the instrument, which drew repeated applause. He played Keeravani raga as a tribute to Pandit Mallikarjun Mansur, and concluded with his own Grammy Award winning A Meeting by the River. The audience enjoyed his mohan veena concert.
The Dhwani-BKF music festival is organised with two objectives. First, to create an interest in Hindustani music among youngsters by providing an opportunity for music lovers in Bengaluru to listen to some of the stalwarts who do not often perform in the city. Second, to raise funds for the Foundation for its “One free Dialysis Day Scheme” through advertisements and donations.
By Pushpa Lakshman
(Dr. Pushpa Lakshman has a doctorate in Sociology, and performs Carnatic and Hindustani music. She is a freelance writer and music critic)
Banaras Utsav inaugurated by Honorable Speaker Smt. Meira Kumar
~The first edition of Banaras Utsav witnessed tremendous response with hundreds of attendees~
~The festival was graced by presence of Amish Tripathi, Jatin Das &Padma Bhushan awardee Pt. Rajan- Sajan Mishra~
October 24, 2013: The first edition of the biggest art and cultural festival of city Vanarasi- Banaras Utsav was commenced today at the famed Mahatma Gandhi Kashi Vidyapith (MGKV) and on various Ghats such as Assi Ghat, Shivala Ghat, Jukaso Ganges Hotel on Ganesh Ghat, Amrit Rao Peshwa Haveli, Raja Ghat, Benia Bagh and Sunbeam School Varuna in Varanasi, India. The festival was inaugurated by Honorable Speaker, Smt. Meira Kumar ji followed by a session on the mysticism of Lord Shiva in literature by Mr. Amish Tripathi along with Prof. Chandramouli Upadhyayaji at Sunbeam School, Bhagwanpur, Varanasi.
The festival was organised at a large scale coupled with best of art, craft and literature under one roof in Varanasi. The festival witnessed the attendance of XX number of participants who also experienced the mouthwatering dishes of Banaras served by Hotel Clarks which prepared delicacies and traditional Indian cooking.
On the occasion, Gaurav Kapoor Organizer Secretary & National Spokesperson, Banaras Utsav Committee said, “The spirit of the event is to showcase the rich heritage associated with the city. This is a conscious step taken by the Banaras Utsav Committee to inspire the younger generation to take the legacy forward. It is very important to preserve the true essence of oldest city of the world. We invite people across the globe to join us at the biggest cultural fiesta.”
The highlight of the event was the fact that it was open for all and had no registration fee. The idea behind keeping the entry free of cost was to make the event popular and urge mass to attend it.
Speaking on the occasion, Amish Tripathi (Author of the Shiva Trilogy) said, “Benaras has been home to poets, writers, thinkers and artists. It is always a delight to visit Benaras, regardless of the reason. It is a city dedicated to my God, Lord Shiva. I have learned that it is in itself a great metaphor for the Mahadev, a metaphor for duality; while it is the centre of lively cultural confluence. It is very encouraging to see the response that this festival has received on its first day.”
The day had a performance by Vyomesh Shukla and his theatre group on ‘Ram ji ki Shakti Puja’ at Surya Uday Haveli, Shivala Ghat. Their play, based on ‘Niralaji’s’ works, depicts Shri Ramchandraji in his fight against Ravana is dejected as he finds Deviji herself is protecting Ravana. Shri Ramchandraji decides to pray and along with this 108 lotus flowers he decides to extract his eyes as the 108th flower which is missing from his puja. The rest is all history…
For more details and information, please contact:
Deepanjali Itkan @ 7503650706, email@example.com
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Members of Banaras Utsav Committee
· Mr. Ashok Kumar Kapoor - Chairman, Organising Committee, Banaras Utsav
· Mr. Ashok Kumar Gupta - Chairman, Finance Committee, Banaras Utsav
· Mr. Deepak Madhok, Chairman, Program Committee, Banaras Utsav
· Mr. Upendra Kumar Gupta – Member, Organising Committee, Banaras Utsav
· Jagdish Shah, Treasurer
· Bharti Madhok, Member, Banaras Utsav committee
· Gaurav Kapoor - Organizer Secretary & National Spokesperson, Banaras Utsav Committee
St. Louis Indian Dance Festival 2013
The fifth St. Louis Indian Dance Festival was held from 19 to 21 April in St. Louis, Missouri. It has successfully completed five editions under the able guidance of guru Prasanna Kasthuri. Soorya Performing Arts is a not-for-profit organisation in St. Louis, U.S.A. that has committed itself to promoting traditional Indian dance, music and other forms of allied arts.
This year, the festival had more than 150 artists performing on three days (both mornings and evenings). They came from India (Bangalore, Kolkata, Baroda, Bhubaneswar and Kochi), Paris, London and the US cities of New York, Detroit, San Jose, Alabama, Chicago, Cambridge, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Cupertino, Wisconsin, Dallas and the host town of St. Louis. Seven classical dance forms (Bharatanatyam, Kuchipudi, Kathak, Mohini Attam, Manipuri, Sattriya and Odissi) and Yakshagana from India were presented at the festival. It showcased young artists as well as seniors with decades of experience and gave the rasikas a taste of the layers of artistry and the flow of tradition across generations. According to Prasanna Kasthuri, the chief convenor of the festival, “This dance festival gives equal opportunity to senior dancers as well as second generation Americans”. As an immigrant community in a foreign nation the organisers work hard to preserve classical Indian culture in a world of movies and entertainment.
The festival opened with the lighting ceremony by elder citizens of the Indian community. This was followed by group singing by the students of Seema Murthy Kasthuri, and a brisk dance presentation to the music of Chittibabu by the students of Prasanna Kasthuri.
Gatha Odissi, the final performance of the day was an elegant, polished presentation of Odissi by Aruna Mohanty and group. While the male dancers excelled in their energy, the female dancers matched them with their grace. The lighting and music support was excellent. Yudhishtira Nayak deserves special mention. Gatha Odissi touched the nerve of the audience and set an amazing standard for the dance festival. It was preceded by a graceful Kuchipudi recital by Sailaja Pullela (disciple of Vempati Chinna Satyam), Bharatanatyam by young Shalini Subbarao (disciple of Prasanna Kasthuri), and an energetic presentation of Yakshagana and Bharatanatyam by Prof. Mangala Anand and Rajendra Kedlaya. The duo presented Draupadi Vastrapaharana and Mohini Bhasmasura, using Bharatanatyam to portray lasya and Yakshagana for masculine characters.
The second day brought a touch of novelty. For the first time, Sattriya was presented at the St. Louis festival. It was an elegant presentation of the compositions of saint poet Sankardeva by Madhusmitha Bora, Prerona Bhuyan and Willow Swidler Notte. This was followed by another first for St. Louis – a presentation of Manipuri dance by Krishnakali Das Gupta. Some of the dances were choreographed by the late guru Bipin Singh. It was an eye catching performance.
If Bharatanatyam dancer Prakruthi Hoskere’s abhinaya was impressive, the rhythmical phrases in the Jaipur style of Kathak by Sharmila Sharma mesmerised the audience. Her rendition of Ahalya Uddhar and the tarana were impeccable. Prasanna Kasthuri presented a collaboration of Kathak and Bharatanatyam to live music. It was a novel idea and the nuances of both dance forms were well portrayed. He was ably assisted by Sushma Mohan (nattuvangam) and Seema (vocal). The dancers featured in the morning were Neha Kidambi, Smriti Bharadwaj, Joshua Cherian, and Anisha Gururaj.
The morning session on the concluding day had Bharatanatyam by Annuja Mathivanan, Ma Bavya, and Sowmya Kumaran. Sowmya inspired the young St. Louis dancers with her nritta and unhurried abhinaya. Manasvini Avvari stole the show with her elaborate Kuchipudi performed with commendable maturity.
The evening session began with a powerful presentation of Kathak by Sunaina Rao, who included a Bharatanatyam composition and rendered it in Kathak with ease. She also effectively presented a modern theme of injustice towards women. Kripa Baskran brought a team of talented Bharatanatyam dancers from Wisconsin. Sahasra Sambamoorthy used Bharatanatyam to portray different aspects of choreography; her portrayal of peacocks and peahens had the audience chuckling. Kathak exponent Prashanth Shah was majestic in his solos and also danced a duet with Sunaina. Though impressive, his performance fell short of the expectations raised by him the previous year. The concluding presentation was a Mohini Attam performance by Smitha Rajan, whose Jagadoddharana had the audience spellbound. The festival ended on a high note with mangalam by the Mohini Attam group.
Over the years, the St. Louis Indian Dance Festival has become a much awaited annual event in the St. Louis area. Guru Prasanna Kasthuri, whose brainchild it is, thanked the hundreds of volunteers and the Missouri Arts Council, Regional Arts commission for their support and encouragement in the conduct of the festival.
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Three-day music fest in Melbourne
Three-day music fest in Melbourne
Tribute to Lalgudi
Despite a wet and cold winter’s day in Melbourne, several music enthusiasts gathered at the Kel Watson theatre in Burwood on 31 May to be part of a tribute to Lalgudi G. Jayaraman who passed away in April this year. Two musicians from the Lalgudi tradition in Melbourne, Narmatha Ravichandhira of Sruthi Laya Kendra and Uthra Vijayaraghavan of Keerthana Music School, organised the tribute with the help of friends. It was a rich collage of music, dance, video, audio presentations and talks, which brought to life the genius that was Lalgudi. Two visiting artists, from India and the U.K., vainika P. Vasanth Kumar and violinist A.G.A. Gnanasundaram who had come to attend the two-day Mummoortigal Festival were also present at the event.
The evening began with a prayer, a composition of Lalgudi, sung by Chaitanyaraman Gnanasundaram. Uthra Vijayaraghavan, (disciple of S.P. Ramh) and her students presented a couple of Lalgudi’s varnams, followed by a violin rendition by Narmatha’s students. Later in the evening, both Uthra and Narmatha along with their students, presented vocal and violin concerts of Lalgudi’s tillanas, including a dance choreographed by Narmatha Ravichandhira for the Madhuvanti tillana. It was a fitting tribute to Lalgudi the composer famous for his rhythmically challenging yet melodious varnams and tillanas. The accompanists of the evening were Chaitanyaraman and Gnanasundaram (violin), and Ravichandhira and Sai Nivaeithan Ravichandhira (mridangam).
A.G.A. Gnansundaram, a senior disciple of Lalgudi Jayaraman, paid a rich and emotional tribute to his memory. He spoke about his long association and shared several anecdotes. Vasanth Kumar too recounted several memorable encounters with the violin legend. He also gave a scholarly analysis of kritis not only popularised by Lalgudi Jayaraman, but which have acquired a distinct dimension through Lalgudi’s correct usage of music grammar. The Iyer Brothers of Melbourne fondly remembered the close relationship they had forged with the violin maestro in Chennai, and with G.J.R. Krishnan & Lalgudi Vijayalakshmi during their visits to Australia over the last two decades.
The homage also included a 20-minute video on Lalgudi Jayaraman and a power point presentation put together by Jothin Vallathol and Nagasundaram, which had some wonderful snippets from the life and music of this genius. A video of a concert tour of Australia by Karaikudi Mani and Lalgudi Jayaraman in 1995 was also presented, which had the mridangam vidwan extolling Lalgudi’s adherence to tradition and his innovative spirit in developing new ideas. Tributes from disciples G.J.R. Krishnan and S.P. Ramh (audio message) provided a fitting finale to the homage paid to the colossus who strode the Carnatic music scene for more than six decades.
Tribute to the music trinity
The same venue also witnessed the annual Mummoortigal Jayanti and the Swati Tirunal bicentennial celebrations on 1 and 2 June, presented by the Academy of Indian Music, Australia (Inc) and Sruthi Laya Kendra (Australia & India), from 1 pm to 10 pm. The Mummoortigal Jayanti commemorates the contributions of the Carnatic music trinity, and included Swati Tirunal as well this year. This year marks the 28th annual festival in Melbourne under the artistic directorship of Ravi M. Ravichandhira.
The festival began with the traditional singing of Tyagaraja’s Pancharatna kritis and a few compositions of Muthuswami Dikshitar and Syama Sastry, followed by performances by well known music teachers and artists in Melbourne. This two-day festival is organised on a grand scale and is a much anticipated event in the cultural calendar. Besides recitals by accomplished musicians of Melbourne, there were concerts by visiting artists P. Vasanth Kumar (veena) and A.G.A. Gnanasundaram (violin). Gnanasundaram and his son Chaitanyaram performed a violin duet. They were supported by Hariharan Balasri and Sainivaeithan Ravichandhira on the mridangam. Vasanth Kumar, senior disciple of Pichumani Iyer, presented a solid, traditional veena recital (exploring the ragas Bilahari and Gaulipantu), with Ravichandhira accompanying him on the mridangam. It was sponsored by the Iyer Brothers, Melbourne-based vainikas.
The second day featured a TYME concert – an orchestra comprising some of the best young musicians of Melbourne. The concert (arranged this year by the Iyer Brothers) was a crisp and polished presentation. Sridhar Chari conducted the percussion ensemble which had talented youth drawn from various mridangam schools. This was followed by solo concerts of 45 minutes each by well known Melbourne artists including Sundari Saripalle, Rama Rao, Jayashree Ramachandran, Ahilan Sivanandan, Sridhar Chari, Murali Kumar, Narmatha Ravichandhira and M. Ravichandhira, Vijaya Peters and the Iyer Brothers.
The three-day music fest was a treat for rasikas.
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Gaandharva Nipunaa K. Ramiah (senior nattuvangam artist & vocalist), Natya Kalanidhi Prof. C.V. Chandrasekhar (veteran Bharatanatyam exponent & guru), Chief Guest P.S. Sachu (Secretary, Iyal Isai Nataka Manram), Narthaka Nipunaa R. Vijay Madhavan, with Chitra Visweswaran (President, ABhai) after receiving the awards during the 26th ABhai Annual Day celebrations held on 20 October 2013 at the Narada Gana Sabha Hall in Chennai.
Bharat Seva Puraskar 2013
Carnatic vocalist Sudha Ragunathan was awarded the ‘Bharat Seva Puraskar’ for “exemplary service to music and humanity’ on Sunday. She is the first recipient of the award instituted by the Sri Parthasarathy Swami Sabha and Carnatica. The award carries a cash prize of Rs. 25,000 and citation.
Sri. M. Balamuralikrishna, presented the singer the award at the launch of the ten-day ‘Bharat Sangeet Utsav’ . Smt. Sudha Ragunathan is also the Sangita Kalanidhi-designate with the Music Academy conferring the title on her this year.
Textbooks launched for structured music curriculum for schools
A Brhaddhvani—Art Links Learning collaboration
Chennai based NGO BRHADDHVANI (a research and training centre for the musics of the world) recently launched four textbooks on a music curriculum for KG and Primary classes. The books Kids’ COMET I & II and SVARITHA I & II—were released by Ms. Leela Samson, Chairperson, Sangeet Natak Akademi. At the launch function on 11 July, Sudhir Rao and Sadhana Rao, Directors of Art Links Learning--in partnership with Brhaddhvani to deliver music education to children in schools in Chennai--received the first copies.
In his opening address Dr. Karaikudi S Subramanian, Founder Chairman, Brhaddhvani, said, “It has always been my dream to see classical music education reach far and wide and little children get initiated and introduced to our rich tradition at a very young age. Today I am about to see my dream come true”.
Dr. Subramanian spoke of his 21 years of relentless work in music research, curriculum development and music philanthropy and his efforts to disseminate music education throughout the world. “More recently our COMET methodology has captured the imagination of parents, school management, alike. I am pleased to state that we are now all set for the next phase school curricular programmes with our able partners Art Links Learning”.
Leela Samson said, “A student and a teacher myself, I am able to state that it is a proud moment for all of us in India today – as we see schools taking so much interest in imparting a structured art and music curriculum to children from a very young age”.
Sudhir Rao stressed the shared mission of Art Links and Brhaddhvani of dissemination of a holistic curriculum in the music and arts space for children of all ages – in a seamless, structured, fun learning process. “We are committed to Brhaddhvani to ensure value addition in every stage of delivery at schools”, stated Sadhana Rao. She added, ““The scope and scale of Brhaddhvani’s COMET methodology using correlated objective training is fascinating and I believe, the standardized lesson delivery plans of Kids’ COMET and Svaritha will trigger the innate sensibilities of little children as they are most receptive to sounds and tunes.”
Sadhana thanked the various principals and educators from multiple schools of Chennai who have understood the power and need for arts education in their communities and have wholeheartedly supported this cause.
Brhaddhvani’s senior faculty member and research scholar Sowmiya Muralidharan, , who authored the textbooks, made an interesting presentation to demonstrate the key aspects in music education focused in the books. She said, “A gentle play way method, using multiple fun filled activity based lessons encourage children to grasp the various elements of music with much ease and enjoyment. The objective of these courses is to make available our classical music tradition to every child. The curriculum correlates music education with the essential academic disciplines of the school curriculum. Awareness building of the environment through folklore, patriotism, and literacy of various languages is taught through the medium of songs and compositions in Bhojpuri, Assamese, Oriya, Bengali, Hindi, and Marathi. The courseware showcases Carnatic, Hindustani and Folk traditions.
BRHADDHVANI (meaning “Big or Universal Sound”) is an NGO based in Chennai, a research and training centre for musics of the world, founded in 1989 by Prof. Karaikudi S Subramanian, a ninth generation Vinavidwan. The institute opens up music to everyone and works towards holistic music education in a global context, combining art and science, tradition and technology. Brhaddhvani is committed to disseminating Music Education amongst children and ignite the latent creative energies present in individuals and give a foundation to develop musical intelligence.
Brhaddhvani explores the fundamentals of Indian Classical music in relation to the MIND, EXPRESSION, BODY, AND THE SOCIETY.
About Art Links Learning
Art Links Learning offers structured curriculum in Arts Education focused upon impacting the right brain education in every child. The focus of Art Links Learning has remained to age appropriately deliver high quality and standardized arts & music education across children cohorts in multiple schools and communities. Art Links along with its conservatory partner Brhhadhvani (a research and training centre for the musics of the world) shares the mission of taking structured music curriculum to students. Art Links ensures the COMET methodology of the conservatory is dovetailed and delivered in a structured manner correlating it to the learning ecosystem in the school.
Collaborating with another World Leading Conservatory – KinderMusik (Present in 71 Countries) Art Links introduces the world of paint & color, rhythm of movement & dance and early language literacy via musical sounds & tunes as a part of the integrated structured curriculum specific to the kindergarteners.
KS Mahadevan remembered amidst lovely music
A music concert means different things to different people, it goes without saying. Some people would want every concert to be filled with Tyagaraja kritis, some like Dikshitar, others love Tamil compositions, so on and so forth. Swara fireworks appeal to the more knowledgeable rasika, and so does the ragam-tanam-pallavi. Some traditionalists set much store by niraval, in fact considering it a true measure of an artiste’s excellence. Tukkada enthusiasts cannot be ignored, with some of them partial to tillana, while a growing number of abhang-bhajan lovers throng the concerts of those specializing in those. And stars like Abhishek Raghuram have created a new band of raga alapana lovers, which is a welcome trend among young listeners.
Personally, I find the violin alapana riposte section of a Carnatic music concert particularly uplifting. (We are naturally assuming here that the violinist is of top quality). I find this section of a concert so reposeful and serene, especially if the hall has good acoustics, and when the violinist’s manodharma is inspired by an outstanding prelude by the vocalist. I am not sure how many listeners feel the way I do, but when in perfect sruti and the artist is handling it with expertise and complete focus, the violin can cast a calming, moving aural glow that I can only describe as spiritual. (Of course the spell is often broken when the vidwan accelerates to the higher speed, sometimes even resulting in cacophony).
R Raghul’s violin accompaniment at a recent vocal recital by Ashwath Narayanan (with appropriately complementary mridangam support by Kumbakonam Ramakrishnan) had that kind of sublime quality, for a considerable length of time, especially during the Purvikalyani alapana. Ashwath himself, so reminiscent in style of KV Narayanaswamy, created a mood of soothing quietude, never hurrying his phrases, making no attempts at artifice of any sort. This was rasa-soaked music in a pure voice that transported the audience to a world of deep bhava.
At this stage of his career, the young man can be forgiven if he tends to imitate his idol to the extent of copying some of his avoidable traits, but he can be a leader of his generation if he builds on his own strengths while reflecting the best qualities he has internalised from the KVN bani.
Before I forget, the concert prefaced a beautifully organised event to remember the late music critic KS Mahadevan. Full marks to the family for a tastefully got up programme, in which everything including the shawls to honour the guests on the dais (pronounced dias as usual) was in elegant good taste. The prominent patron of music Nalli Kuppuswami Chetty spoke with admiration of KSM and his gentle ways as a critic, even giving glimpses of his sense of humour. According to him, KSM wrote only good things about concerts while reserving his criticism for private conversations with the artists concerned. (Nothing much seems to have changed in music reviews, except perhaps for a lack of criticism even in private). He also spoke of his substantial contributions to the newspapers he wrote for, primarily the Indian Express, and his long stint as editor of the journal Shanmukha during his Bombay years.
I had to tear myself away from the pleasant function, as I had another to attend (which I learnt later I should have avoided), so I could not listen to the other speeches (by Y Prabhu, K Balaji,who received the first copy of a commemorative volume on KSM from Nalli, PS Narayanaswamy, Padma Subrahmanyam, TR Subramaniam and VV Sundaram). Unfortunately it also meant that I missed Nithyashree’s concert that followed.
Two plays in London
They examine human nature through different lenses
London is well into Shakespeare season now, and the theatre goer is besieged with opportunities to see classic and modernised versions of Julius Caesar, Othello, As You Like It and The Tempest to name a few.
But two contemporary productions, The Boat Factory and Chimerica, are the ones that truly portray the depth and breadth of the London theatre scene. Both productions excite the senses, tug at the heartstrings and examine human nature; but through entirely different lenses.
THE BOAT FACTORY is enacted by two players against a minimal set and in a tiny theatre at the back of a pub. The subject matter is introspective – a look at the lives of two people in a shipbuilding yard in Belfast.
It is a heartfelt first-person account of one shipbuilder, paradoxically combining nostalgia for the UK’s great manufacturing past with revulsion for the exploitative and dangerous conditions under which the shipbuilders worked.
All the roles are played by Michael Condron and Dan Gordon. Condron is the more versatile actor, slipping into different roles with ease, while Gordon makes up for a lack of flexibility with authenticity; he is also the playwright and the son of a Belfast shipworker.
The play is set around Davy, a young lad about to begin his first day of work at the shipyard.
He is accompanied by his surly, taciturn father and on his first day becomes involved in a mighty punch-up, before being put to work under an abusive superior who beats a fellow employee in front of his shocked eyes. The fight scene in particular is enacted with vigour, making you momentarily forget there is just a pair of them on stage.
Perhaps even more extraordinary is a scene where the protagonist meets a bow-legged fellow employee, Geordie Kilpatrick, soon to become his closest friend and confidante. The two of them are interrupted by their superior, a loud and unforgiving man and what follows is a masterclass in acting; the two actors share the three roles between them, effortlessly switching between the roles of the new boy, the bow-legged companion and the abusive superior, with just the aid of a bowler hat to distinguish the boss from his underlings.
The most moving scenes, however, are when the two main characters climb on to the crow’s nest of an unfinished ship. Bit by bit, Davy realises his companion is a poet and a dreamer trapped in the body of a crippled shipwright. Much of the play’s nostalgia is directed as much to the companion as it is to the shipyard.
In many ways, it is pointless to compare this with CHIMERICA, which is on another level altogether. It uses a large cast and an elaborate set to look well beyond Britain’s shores at the fractious and increasingly co-dependent relationship between the world’s foremost superpowers, China and the US.
The play is set in the cavernous Harold Pinter theatre and on the stage is an ingenious cube that turns to show its different faces: on one side a cramped Chinese living room, on another the front of a flower shop, on a third the front of a seedy strip bar in Chinatown in New York.
The scale, the professionalism, the set, the subject – all of it is on a larger scale than The Boat Factory. And yet, it is missing something the smaller play has – a certain unquestionable honesty of purpose.
The starting point of the play, and the central image throughout, is Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. A man stands in front of a tank to stop it from proceeding further. Whichever the way the tank moves, he follows, forming a human shield on his own. What motivates him to do this, to risk his freedom and possibly his life in order to protest?
That is the question asked by American photographer Joe Schofield (Stephen Campbell Moore), who captures this moment on film and hides the negatives in the toilet when police come searching.
To his excitement many years later when he is safely in the US, a rumour emerges that the tank man actually immigrated to the US. He risks everything – his job, his time and even the prospect of a relationship to try and track him down.
Meanwhile in China, Zhang Lin (Benedict Wong) is a survivor of the massacre, but haunted by the memory of his wife who died in front of those guns. Ably assisted by an outstanding expressionistic set that seems to reflect the state of his mind as much as his surroundings Wong ties the heart into knots with his performance.
The two characters, and the two narratives, are made considerably richer by a series of convincing supporting characters, and the tragedy is interspersed with humorous and tender moments.
The play has garnered five star reviews from some of the severest critics in the London scene. However, there is one flaw that takes away a lot of the play’s appeal. It is the suspicion that writer Lucy Kirkwood is every bit as guilty as her photographer anti-hero of using a genuine tragedy for her own ends.
Of course, it is the job of every writer to tell a good story. But clever plot twists, especially at the end of the play, cheapen the tragedy and reduce the grandeur of the subject and bring it down to the level of a clever crime thriller.
Perhaps Kirkwood sees the irony, and even plays up to it. But by reducing the complexities of a real life situation to an old fashioned plot-twister, the play falls short of the truly sublime that was well within its reach.
Geetha Raja Receive Award
The South India Social and Cultural Academy, Chennai, honoured Carnatic vocalist Geetha Raja with the "Achiever's Award"-Sangeeta Sevai Chemmal-on 21 September 2013 at their annual function in which eminent personalities belonging to various fields were felicitated. Chief guests Pon. Baskaran (Former Judge, High Court of Madras) and Sethu Murugaboopathy (District and Sessions Judge) presented the awards and mementos.