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Old gold in new music

M.V. RAMAKRISHNAN

L. Subramaniam presented his unique brand of music, accompanied by son Amby and daughter Bindu.

Photo: R. Ravindran

ART INHERITED: L. Subramaniam with Amby and Bindu.

The adventures of Carnatic violinist L. Subramaniam ever since he went away to the West as a young man long ago have been truly fantastic. In the 1980s he created a tremendous impression in Western music circles as the innovator of what he called  220;neo-fusion,” which infused brilliant Indian classical colours (in terms of both melodies and rhythms) in Western orchestral music as well as jazz.

In the beginning we in India had no idea of what this was all about, but in the mid-80s certain audio cassettes were released here containing his Indo-jazz excursions titled Conversations, Indian Express, etc.

Treat for music lovers

A little later, music lovers living in the Capital had several opportunities to listen to his music in the concert halls, because Subramaniam had the enterprise and resources to bring over some leading foreign musicians and orchestras from the West and show us what exactly was creating such a great sensation in music circles abroad.

Subsequently he has performed his unique brand of new music elsewhere too in India, associating more and more Indian musicians with such ventures. The latest occasion in Chennai was his concert last week at the Seva Sadan, Harrington Road, on the occasion of the 80th anniversary celebrations of that noble institution.

Assembled in the magnificent new concert hall in the Seva Sadan’s lovely and treeful premises was an All-Indian ensemble playing guitars, keyboards, Western drums, and a battery of Indian percussion instruments including mridangam, ghatam, tavil and morsing. The fine acoustics of the hall made it possible to amplify the sound to dizzy levels without any distortion; and the violinist set up a scorching pace, taking the large and enthusiastic audience on a supersonic flight through a sonic storm!

Subramaniam’s recent composition called Percussion Symphony was as compelling as it was complex, with the Indian percussion instruments setting up several different rhythmic patterns simultaneously, some of the musicians creating vocal percussion effects too. There was a melodic backdrop which was drowned in the explosive decibels sometimes, but the music acquired exquisite beauty when the maestro stepped in with his magic violin. Another racy number was a recent work called Ganga, where the highlight was several rounds of trade-offs between the violin and the percussion instruments.

Subramaniam’s son Amby, who shows early signs of inheriting his father’s art, joined him briefly and effectively now and then.

Calm spells

There were some calm and soft-sounding spells too, when Subramaniam’s daughter Bindu rendered a couple of short songs composed by herself. The maestro accompanied her for the second song, lending his own characteristic sound.

Another subtle item was a so-called “piano solo,” which was played on the keyboard by Sanjay Wandrekar, accompanied by Solomon on the keyboard set to strings. Apparently improvised by Sanjay, it nevertheless had the flavour of Subramaniam’s own music, even reminding one of an old familiar composition called Vision in White which had figured in his album Super Instinct (1986), and which he had played on the violin with a foreign musician’s accompaniment on the keyboard simulating the piano. But the most fascinating part of the whole concert came in the very beginning, with a couple of works called Conversations and Indian Express, which had been featured in early neo-fusion albums bearing the same titles and produced nearly a quarter-century ago. Which reminded one that even the brand-new music of L. Subramaniam is now old enough to contain some old gold which is still shining!

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