Billed as Carnatic Chills, this concert brought together three rarely-heard instruments, piano, violin and kanjira, to present an evening of Carnatic music. If the combination of instruments was unusual, maybe the same could be said of the three personalities and the way they presented themselves on stage.
Pianist Anil Srinivasan, classically trained in both the Western and Carnatic traditions, provided the glue to the musical pieces, all relatively short by classical standards. Each piece was introduced with an allegorical story to illustrate some of the salient themes in the music: female divinity, mysticism, illusion or an outpouring of unsurpassed devotion. While this was a refreshing change to the normally dry, and to some audiences archaic and obscure, introductions of music (‘raga hamsadwani in 16 beats’), at times one wondered when the story would end and the music begin. This was in sharp contrast to violinist Lalgudi G.J.R. Krishnan and B.S. Purushotham on kanjira who simply played and hardly seemed to notice that there was an audience in front of them.
Notable for its absence was the mridangam. And this lack of a strong percussive beat created what was a quite different mood from a ‘normal’ Carnatic concert: contemplative, serene and meditative.
At times the instruments gelled beautifully: Srinivasan, who describes himself as a ‘compulsive collaborator’, having introduced each piece, often set the mood by weaving gentle, rippling melodic lines. His playing was slow and pure, without the dazzling virtuosity often displayed by many artists.
And as the piano melted into the background, Krishnan, who comes from a distinguished line of outstanding musicians, complemented the tranquil, unhurried mood with a violin sound that was sublime, emotive and rich in the gayaki, or singing, tradition from which he hails. And just occasionally, Purushotham’s kanjira – light, airy and with a heavy bass – stalked its way into the piece to create a beautiful, hypnotic sound. The concert, part of Milapfest’s Music for the Mind and Soul series was certainly that.