This past weekend, a bunch of us drove around 200 miles to go listen to T M Krishna, Sriramkumar and Arun Prakash perform at Seattle and came back with our hearts desires fulfilled at the concert. Early disclaimers, I am a huge fan and quite in agreement with a lot of the problems Krishna has with the kutcheri format as we know it today. But I will stay as objective as I can narrating my experience. Krishna has been receiving a lot of flak, some of it warranted of course, but a lot of it is social media flogging based on second/third hand reports. I want my mostly positive reception of his experiments out in the cyberspace not really to counter these (to each his own, really) but to offer a different perspective for anybody who maybe wants to see another side to it.
The kutcheri format as we know it today, is mostly what was pioneered and optimized by Ariyakudi and was essentially one individual’s idea of how he wanted to present his music. That format having passed on over the generations has become a dictat on how a concert should be performed. But music and its presentation should never remain static, and any art is individual interpretation. When I start looking at Krishna’s attempts as something more than a “gimmick” and try to figure out why and how he is trying to shake up the format of a kutcheri, I see a lot of things that ring well with me, and some that maybe don’t. But I am willing to let that go in the wake of the fact that the unpredictability of what is going to come next adds an extra dimension of intrigue and wonder in the concert for me.
Now to the concert itself. Krishna delved straight into Ananda natana prakasham, in his vilamba kaala style,kedaram in all its glory! There was joy in the way the team performed this krithi. There was a neraval @ sri kedaradhi kshetra which is not a typical spot for this krithi but quite a playful one. The twists, turns and swings around the word kedara were a delight! And then when they reached sangeetha vaadya vinodha, it didn’t seem unnatural at all that they decided to stop there again for neraval, the team was so into it at this point. After 30 minutes of kedaram they were finally satisfied and the audience was ecstatic. Who are we then to complain that the first “warm-up piece” shouldn’t go on for so long! A thaanam in Sri Ranjini followed, and while personally I would have enjoyed an alapana better (just because of my love for the raagam), when Krishna segued into Marubalka, the pace of the thaanam really set the pace for the song. Now, if you have heard Semmangudi sing Marubalka with the lightning speed swaras and sangathis, you don’t want to hear it sung by anybody else that way. Krishna owned the song and really made it his own with a madhyamakala pace and awesome third speed swarams when Arun Prakash set it into motion with some energetic korvais. He really is the person who got the rawest of deals with all the vilamba kaala expositions, but his restrained minimalist style in those really sets him apart from everyone else. Next was a Saraswathi Manohari alapana (TMK announced it was the Diskthira paddhathi one, it sounded nothing like the Entha vedunkondu one and more like Kaanada IMO) and the eponymous krithi followed. I love Krishna for his love for Dikshitar!
Next is where it gets interesting. Krishna sang and explored Mukhari beautifully in multiple octaves and then Sriramkumar took over and played a splendid Kedaragowla! And then Krishna began singing Kuvalayakshiro!!! I love Kshetragnya padams, and being married to a Movva from the land of Muvva Gopala, the Gowlipantu was a double delight. While I don’t have a huge issue with stand alone alapanas, I didn’t quite get the choice of ragas and so felt a little stumped and was searching for clues where there probably were none. And then Krishna took on Poochi Srinivasa Iyengar’s Shankarabharanam thillana, and when Dharin turned to me in alarm that the concert was going to end, I only half jokingly told her that this was probably the main. Well, that is what it ended up being 🙂 After singing the thillana in its pure honest form at a reduced speed (which totally worked for me BTW) he then launched into a Shankarabharanam exploration over the hills and vales. Now if I had tweeted my first knee jerk reaction to this, I am sure there would have been a flogging party over it. But when he and Shriramkumar were done with it, I was completely overwhelmed with the beauty of the shankarabharanam exposition. I didn’t find it incomplete, inappropriate or out of place. The thillana pallavi didn’t start at sammam, so Arun Prakash had super fun exploring this in his thani in his trademark controlled restrained way. I wont pretend I understood the math 🙂
Next up was the slokam Moulam Ganga (another Semmangudi staple) followed by a hamir kalyani alapana by RKSK and Sharade in Hameerkalyani. A lovely Pantuvarali alapana with terrific exchanges between TMK and RKSK followed and I was super excited anticipating a Pallavi. TMK announced the raagam as Kamavardhini instead of Pantuvarali which made sense once the pallavi lines began ,” Parthadum mayanginen paavai yin paarvai yai” . The exposition was swarakshara filled at all the Pas and Mas. And then TMK and RKSK went into ragamalika mode with the pallavi. Krishna believes in a democratic stage, with him and Sriram Kumar and Arun Prakash sitting in an arc on stage. For probably the first time ever, I could see the violinst AND mridangist’s’ faces throughout the concert and it was lovely to watch the camaraderie. This pallavi ragamalika was a true duet, each one taking up a different raga : Ahiri (was like listening to Mayamma!), neelambari, hamsadhwani and ending with Khamas. Khamas segued into a fast paced and a super fun javali (Era ra ra)! And Dhava vibho and mangalam kosalendra also sung in Yaman Kalyani wrapped up a splendid 3 hours of divine pure music.
Yes, the concert was non-conformal to what is the norm today, but each composition form and raga was performed in its purest state with full justice given to the grammar of the format. Dikshitar and Thiagaraja were represented, there was a pallavi, a padam, a jaavali, a thillana, multiple ghana raaga explorations and none of them felt incomplete at all. I don’t have a problem with the order when the treatment is so perfect. Krishna’s voice was in great form despite this being close to the end of the tour and they were truly a team on stage. Even the” this is not a concert” spiel was more like a request to try to understand the attempt , that it was just to share music. And that is exactly what they did on stage, completely in consonance with each other and the music. The second request was to not feel compelled to applaud every time they came to a silence, and sometimes let the silence sink in, which was again a perfectly acceptable request (I fact checked this with my objective about everything and extremely rational husband and he said he didn’t spot any arrogance in the requests made). My only gripe with the concert was that there was no varnam, and that too only because TMK sings them so well! A varnam main was what I had hoped for 🙂 Another complaint from some in my gang was that there were not enough madhyamakala krithis to balance the vilambam, and if you are not a fan of slow explorations I guess his style can be a little hard to like. I am fine if people aren’t a fan of the music itself, but the all out bashing of all his attempts IMO is unwarranted. We shouldn’t be nit-picking over dictats which are probably 50-70 years old forgetting the beauty of the compositions much older and the music that predates everything else!
P.S – A more technical review of the concert here : http://www.rasikas.org/forum/viewtopic.php?f=13&t=24377
A really endearing acceptance speech from TMK recently where he re iterates the friendship this team shares : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nA23S8AN0fI