Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Concert reports: Pravaahee, Debapriya-Samanwaya

I've just written the following article, to be published in this month's Brisbane Indian Times, on two recent Indian classical music concerts in Brisbane:

(Sorry I've no camera now...)


Once again March has proven to be the peak of the Indian Classical Music concert season in Brisbane. Along with the yearly Nataraj concerts (on March 12 this year featuring Carnatic bansuriya Natesan Ramani and Hindustani vocalist Manjiri Kelkar), a performance by Carnatic vocalist Smt. Subha Harinath and tours by Hindustani bansuri players Manose (early in March) and Harsh Wardhan (coming up late in March), there were two more very special collaborative Hindustani classical concerts bringing together differing styles of North Indian classical music. On March 1st we were treated to a performance entitled Pravaahee combining classical vocal and Kathak dance, and then on the following weekend Kolkata artists Debapriya and Samanwaya presented their blend of classical vocal and sitar music.

Pravaahee showcased the talents of upcoming vocalist Pushkar Lele and Kathak dancer Shambhavi Vaze. They were given very able accompaniment on tabla by Charudatta Phadke and on harmonium by Chaitanya Kunte. I was particularly pleased to hear that both dancer and tabla player were trained by tabla master Pt. Suresh Talwarkar, currently introducing many innovations into the performance of taal in Hindustani music.

The Old Museum is a very fine venue and was almost filled by the music lovers drawn to the event, including many of Brisbane's own leading artists. While I would challenge the concert's billing as a jugalbandi, which usually refers to a duet between melodic artists sharing the elaboration of a raga, it was certainly a very appealing concept to present a wide range of vocal and Kathak dance styles in the one performance.

The recital opened with the more ancient forms of Indian classical vocal music by Pushkar Lele: a shloka, devotional Prabandha Gaayan and a Dhrupad. Having heard many specialist Dhrupad artists perform in this revered discipline, I felt it lacking in depth to gloss over it in the brief rendition given here, and this would be my main but only criticism of the overall performance - that in presenting so many diverse styles the performers could not explore any one style in much depth.

The musicians were then joined on the stage by Shambhavi Vaze for a performance of Kathak dance with a vocal rendition of Chaturang, a highly varied and exciting piece presented in five taals consecutively. Then followed the vocal centrepiece of the evening, a Bara Khayal in 14 beat Jhoomra Taal and Chota Khayal in Teentaal. (I must apologise to readers for not being well-versed in ragas, just talas!) The first set concluded with the main Kathak performance, a very interesting selection of dance compositions set to 13 beat Ras Taal and then Teentaal. Kya baat hai!

The second set consisted of lighter pieces including on the vocal side Ghazal and Tappa, and collaborative vocal-Kathak dance pieces in Thumri, Natya Sangeet, Hori, Gat-bhav and a very exciting Tarana. I was very surprised and honoured when the final piece was dedicated to myself. Apparently they had heard a recording of me and bansuri player Taro Terahara performing in 11 beat Chartaal ki Sawari, so they decided to finish with a beautiful composition of their harmonium player Chaitanya Kunte in 9 and half beats! Wonderful.

Overall it was a splendid performance and we are honoured to have such talented artists visiting us. However I did feel that the concert was a bit too long and that if the artists had chosen to present a more focused selection of pieces it would have been even more accessible to the wide audience they were aiming to please. Many congratulations to concert promoters Bollybiz!

As if that was not enough, the following weekend Bengali Society of Queensland hosted young vocal and sitar duo, Debapriya-Samanwaya from Kolkata, consisting of vocalist Debapriya Adhikary and sitar player Samanwaya Sarkar. Both are extremely talented and devoted artists who have toured internationally solo, and this was their first international tour as a duo. It was my great honour to accompany them in two concerts, firstly at Indooroopilly State High School and then the following night at a private function hosted by Dr N Das.

To be honest, this was much more my kind of recital - pure Indian classical ragas performed with a feeling of great humility and devotion, taking the time to explore each raga in depth. Both Debapriya's voice and Samanwaya's sitar were always relaxed and sweet, through all stages from slow alap to the most rapid twisting taans, meends and gamaks.

The first concert opened with a beautiful recital of Raag Yaman, with fully developed alap and jor, followed by gat in madhya lay ektaal. The second set consisted of two shorter pieces in Raags Kedara and Kalavati. Throughout, the dialogue between voice and sitar was very engaging. The two artists responded to each other's improvisations enthusiastically and yet they shared the space completely harmoniously. I was particularly impressed with sitar player Samanwaya's command over meend (bending of notes) and use of dynamics. Shabaash!

I must say I don't understand why so many Indian cultural events are held in school halls, which have such terrible acoustics and zero atmosphere. I suppose budget has a big part to play, so I encourage all readers to get out and give more support to Indian classical music in Brisbane, so that the organisers can afford to use better venues!

The second Debapriya-Samanwaya concert, on the other hand, was held in the perfect venue - the home of Dr N Das in Pullenvale. Home concerts always provide the best atmosphere for Indian classical music, which developed in the days before microphones and large halls. The audience becomes so much more a part of the music, interacting directly with the artists and encouraging them to strive for ever greater heights.

The recital began with a lovely rendition of Raag Bhupali with alap, jor and gat in madhya lay teentaal. Then followed an exciting Raag Adana, and the concert wrapped up with an emotive Hori in Dip Chandi (14 beats) and Keherva. Even my humble tabla accompaniment was well received! Many thanks to Dr Das and the 30 or so Indian classical music connoisseurs who came on same-day notice.

It really is a privilege for Brisbane every time such great artists visit and enrich our lives with this great jewel of global culture, Indian classical music. Many thanks and congratulations to the organisers of these events, Bollybiz and Bengali Society of Queensland. We look forward to many more great performances soon.

Shen Flindell