A Grand Violin Trio Concert
Review by Sneha Ramesh Mani
Carnatic music is, for today’s millennial audiences, often hard to appreciate and enjoy. Professor T.N. Krishnan is undoubtedly a maestro and a living legend, but his genius lies in his ability to communicate the complexity and beauty of this art form to everyone — from the most accomplished artists to little children who know nothing about it.
As a six year old attending violin class for the first time, everything about the instrument was really hard — balancing it precariously on my foot, coordinating the bow and my fingers, and finding the right note without any positioning guidelines. What sustained me through two decades of playing the violin, however, was that I had the music of T.N. Krishnan to admire, enjoy, and aspire to. My personal relationship with his music began with my ‘Maestro’s Choice Series One — T.N. Krishnan’s cassette, my one constant through moving schools, music teachers, and countries.
The Violin Trio concert on May 21st was special to me because my cassette essentially came to life. Professor T.N. Krishnan — playing alongside his children Viji Krishnan-Natarajan and Sriram Krishnan, and accompanied by Sri. Trichy Sankaran on Mridangam and Ravi Balasubramanian on Ghatam — delivered a concert that was crisp, elegant, and memorable from beginning to end.
What really made the experience delightful was the care with which the songs were chosen. All the kritis were quickly recognizable and familiar, leaving the listener free to enjoy the unique aspects brought out by the artists in each song: surprising sangathis that provided interesting flavour to popular krithis, succinct ragams, and fast-paced kalpana swaram accompanying select pieces.
The concert opened with Vatapi Ganapathim, followed by Evarani and Brova Barama before leading into the main piece of the afternoon — Raghuvara in Pantuvarali. After a masterful Thani Avarthanam, the trio finished the concert with a succession of old favourites: Jagadodharana, Bhagyada Lakshmi Baramma, and Madhava Mamava, among others.
While each piece was kept short and to the point, none of the beauty or intricacy was lost. This was in part due to each artist’s skill, but also due to the coordination and collaboration between all of them which helped bring out the best in every song.
Carnatic music in today’s world is often considered overly complicated, stodgy, and dull — music reminiscent of a time when people had the patience, training, and energy to understand complex technicalities and subtle nuances. In a bid to make this art form more palatable to modern listeners, younger artists often tend toward experimental and fusion forms, often losing the essence of Carnatic music along the way.
This concert was a powerful reminder that despite being one of the oldest performers in the fray, T.N. Krishnan has an alternative approach, one that will ensure that Carnatic music stays alive and flourishes, without losing its soul. Seventy-nine years after his debut concert, T.N. Krishnan isn’t focused on picking overly complex songs or displaying highly mathematical patterns. He is, instead, making music that is approachable, memorable, and deeply inspiring to all listeners.
This is why my personal relationship with T.N. Krishnan’s music has sustained through the years. It started off as beautiful music that inspired a six-year-old. As I became a serious student of the violin, it became music I imbibed deeply to learn subtle technicalities from. With post-doctoral research and marriage now occupying the bulk of my time, it has become the music my husband and I live our lives around — his rendition of Vatapi Ganapathim serves as our Suprabhatam, and a recording of his Madhava Mamava lulls us to sleep every night.
Throughout the concert on the 21st of May, Professor T.N. Krishnan let his violin do most of the talking. He spoke a few words in conclusion, though, thanking the audience and ending with, “God bless you all.” That was superfluous, of course. As those of us who had listened to him perform for the past two hours knew — we were blessed indeed.