On March 11, 2012 the M.A. Center in Castro Valley, CA presented the first of two concerts in its annual “Concerts of Compassion” series.
The concert was a benefit for embracingtheworld.org and its many disaster relief projects. The program consisted of all Carnatic music, a South Indian musical tradition with ancient roots.
The program flier described the performing group as a “Grand Indian Ensemble”. The word “grand” however, does not even begin to describe the majesty of the performers and their music.
They could also be called the triple “V” ensemble (VVV) as the configuration of this ensemble included Srikanth Chary, on the “veena” a large ornately decorated Indian lute, Mohan Rangan Govandaraj on the “venu” a Carnatic bamboo flute, and Dr. Sarvanapriyan, on violin. They were accompanied by Ravindra Bharati Sridharan on the “mrudungam”, a double-headed hand drum, and Ganesh Ramanyran on the Indian tambourine called “kanjira”.
Carnatic music has many endearing qualities: beautiful melodies, masterful improvisation and vigorous, exciting rhythms. Each piece consists of a name, a melodic mode called “raga”, a cycle of rhythm called “taal” and a composer. It is also very audience participatory as most of the audience will “keep taal” along with the performers.
It is customary in Hindu tradition to start any endeavor with a homage to Lord Ganesh the elephant faced god who removes obstacles and bring success. In this spirit, The program began with “Pranamamyaham” a song on Lord Ganesh played in raag gowlai in Adi taal by Mysore Vasudevachar. It had a spirited feel to it with all the melody instruments interacting harmoniously with the percussion.
This was followed by “Janani Ninnuvina” a song on goddess Devi played in raag Reetigowlai, in Misra Chapu Taal, and was composed by Subbaraya Shastri. The sublime, soulful playing of Mohan Rangan Govandaraj on the venu flute opened the piece and conversations arose from the violin and veena.
“Nenarunchara” was next, played in raag Simhavahini in Adi taal and composed by Tyagaraja. “Nenarunchara” is a song on Sri Rama, a rare composition of Tyagaraja. The performers elegant playing easily evoked images of Rama in the forest with his bow accompanied by Lakshman and Sita, regal and powerful.
It is hard to describe in words the splendor of Srikanth’s veena playing. There is a pure beauty to it that goes beyond the mundane. His melodic lines, tasteful rhythms and saffron note bends take one beyond the earthly plane. Its a quiet virtuosity that retains a sweet healing quality whether playing a quiet serene composition or a fast spirited bhajan.
This was clearly in evidence on the composition “Shri Saraswati” a song inspired by the goddess Saraswati, the goddess of learning and music who is also depicted holding a veena. “Shri Saraswati” a composition by Muttuswamy Dishitar was played in raag Arabhi and set to Rupakam talam.
The centerpiece of the evening was definitely “RTP” an acronym for (Ragam-Tanam-Pallavi) a fully improvisational composition in all aspects. It was composed especially for the occasion by Dr. Saravanapriyan as a homage to Mata Amritanandamayi Devi a.k.a. “Amma”.
The Pallavi style the piece was written in features a theme and improvisations on the theme and in this case the theme “Mata Amrtanandamayi Sadaa Bhajeham” was sung to the audience by Srikanth Chary and then the performers played off of that theme. The improvisations were very melodious and there was a lot of back and forth action between the melody instruments.
“RTP” was a complex, extended work by any standards. For this composition Srikanth Chary tuned his veena to two different ragams: Abhogi and Amritavarshini.
As the piece progressed, the triple “V” came up again because the performers chose the ragas Veenavadhini, Vasanthi and Valaj which were presented each by Srikanth, on the veena, Mohanrangan on the venu flute, and Saravanapriyan on violin, respectively. Following this the performers improvised together on raga Hamsanandi leading to the grand finale.
A rhythmic improvisation section followed. It was an extended rhythmic exchange between the mrudungam and the kanjira that was filled with great percussive fireworks. The percussionists played off of each other well, weaving a sonic fabric of rhythm that was beyond compare. So many tones emerged from the instruments boggling the imagination. The melody instruments then rejoined briefly and the pallavi concluded.
The evening ended on a light note with the Amma bhajan “Yamuna Nadhi Teeram” which is in raag Madhuvanti and set to Adi taalam. “Raghupathi Raghava RajaRam” followed, a favorite of Mahatma Gandhi. The final piece was “Tillana” in raag Desh set to Adi talam, a composition of Lalgudi G. Jayaraman.
The Concerts of Compassion series is in its 2nd year and is a great success. Amrita hall on the M.A. center grounds is also a great venue in a serene setting. All the performers have been top notch and at their creative peak. Look for more exciting concerts as the year progresses.
April 1, 2012 6:00 P.M. Grand Hindustani Classical Concert featuring:
Nachiketa Yakkundi – Hindustani Vocal, Vivek Datar – Harmonium, and Ravi Gutala – Tabla. The concert will take place at the M.A. Center, Castro Valley, CA.
A youth program will also be presented at 4:30pm. Performers include: Master Prasanna Rajan, flute Divya Mohan – Violin, and Vignesh Venkataraman – Mridangam.
Info and tickets at the M.A. Center Website.
Where to get the music:
Srikanth Chary’s CD “Ethereal Melodies: Music for Healing” is available from
Concerts of Compassion 2011 review
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