Much of Carnatic music is written for the voice. Although Dikshitar as the vainika-gayaka wrote music for the veena, the lyrical content ensured that it could not be separated from vocal performance. Consequently, no notation/written scheme has been able to rival the vocal/oral tradition for documentation and pedagogy.
In the Western tradition, it is common to see music written for a certain instrument (e.g concertos for violin, piano, flute etc), or ensembles (string quartets ranging to Liszt's symphonic poems). The music is envisioned and written with this arrangement in mind.
This means that flute concertos are very difficult to instantiate on the piano and vice versa. Even contemporary popular music (ranging from the music of the Beatles to the fleeting star in vogue today) shows a proclivity for specific instrumental arrangements.
So the question here is: Why not explore what is possible with the instrument instead of letting the human voice's natural limitations constrain creative exploration?
Jayanthi and Kumaresh on this tour seek to present instrumental music, as in, Carnatic music explicitly written for the veena and violin, as an art form. And they did that with much grace and panache on the concluding segment of their concert North American tour at Toronto today.
The violin and veena, given the diversity of origin and frequency range, do not combine as easily as one might think. But Jayanthi and Kumaresh managed to blend their strings together (the tour is called "Strings attached" after all). They are indubitably both masters of their instrument. Ideas become music as their instruments have become extensions of their physical selves. When one reaches that can kind of zen state, music just flows.
Yet they are very different in their approach to their instruments.
Jayanthi's nadham is impeccable. Her gamakas, the tone she generates from the veena, the resonance that she manages with one pick of the strings is amazing. She combines the Lalgudi school's vallinam-mellinam exposition with the string pulling yazh
style of S Balachandar. And in doing so, she has managed to achieve a versatile and creative identity for herself. Her playing has the gamaka structure that reminded me of the Tanjore school with the speed and poise that has not been since the likes of Chitti Babu. I think she is the top vainika on the scene today. And I don't mean this lightly.
Kumaresh is still very much the maverick. His bowing is as much Lalgudi as it is Paganini. The tone of his instrument is superb, his accuracy is startling and his speed and control simply dazzles. At his age, he already has almost four decades of stage experience. There is something to be said for the seasoning and the confidence that this kind of stage exposure provides.
The first two items of the concert were presented in a very classical manner. The third item was a ragapravAham following a detailed kalyani alapanai by both artistes. As opposed to one following the other (as in a vocal-violin support situation), they completed each other's phrases which made for a different listening experience.
I too am not a huge fan of the so-called ragapravahams, as another forumite wrote elsewhere. Like millions of other CM listeners, I look for the familiar. I want the well known Tyagaraja kriti, the perfectly predictable structure, the pallavi-anupallavi-charanam arrangement. But today, I found myself humming the ragapravaham lines in Kalyani long after the concert was over. Voice imitating an instrument?
I am still not a 100% comfortable with the idea of a sahitya-free experience, but this is the most secure that I would probably ever get in that territory.
Charukesi was beautifully explored and the pallavi was solid, but a bit scale-ish for my tastes. The trikalam and the mathematics were child's play for these very talented artistes.
I was expecting more after the pallavi. But they did well to end the concert on a high, after a quick glimpse of behag (in tisra nadai) and the tiruppugazh. [Not sure which one, but maybe that was the point
Neyveli Narayanan was brilliant. He seems to have internalized the UKS style and at times watching his arrai chappu executed in all its precision reminded me of the maestro himself. He has also acquired a lot of his skill from the late Tanjore Upendran, whose legacy is not celebrated enough these days. His accompaniment was very thoughtful and his korvai from the tani leading to the pallavi line is case in point about his dexterity.
Toronto's own Surenthar held his ground on the Morsing. Not a simple feat considering the company on stage. He gave a wonderful performance.
Overall, I really enjoyed this concert. I think Jayanthi and Kumaresh are both terrific. I think this is just the beginning of another journey for these extremely talented artistes. I believe this is the last concert of their tour before they return to India.
And it is almost Monday. I do love my job, but...