Thursday, February 11, 2010

From Beethoven to Kunnakudi

No, no....neither am I am going to claim that I heard kalyani in one of Beethoven's quartets nor am I going to find the similarities and dissimilarities between Kunnakudi Vaidyanathan's fingering techniques with that of Beethoven. As much as I like and enjoy classical music, I am in no way qualified to do that or ready to deal with the torrent of disagreements from other music lovers.

It all started with us getting invited to a Beethoven concert. We got the invitation 3 months before the concert and that goes to show how good the concert is, how difficult it is to get good seats and unfortunately it also gives one enough time to prepare for it (so you cannot go in with jeans and say you didn't have time to get yourself something formal to wear !)

My first experience was a Mozart concert in Vienna but that was catering to tourists and although the concert itself was very good and the ambience stunning (was in a castle), there was no pressure w.r.t clothes or etiquette. This time, I decided to wear my Dirndl, the traditional costume in Germany (comparable to namooru pattu sari - slowly dying and well-abused by the few who wear it) and I knew I had made the right choice when I entered the concert hall and noticed all the elderly ladies and gentlemen (I would guess the average age of the attendees as 50 and I am being polite) giving me an approving glance followed by the smile of approval !

The show was 45 minutes of a violin concert with solo pieces and after a short break, the Beethoven's 5th symphony.

I have listened to Beethoven before and more than the music itself, the concert, the orchestra, the conductor and the audience interested me. All along in the back of my mind, I was playing the last carnatic music concert of Ranjani and Gayathri, I had attended 2 years ago (and weirdly it was in Phoenix, Arizona and not singara Chennai) and I couldn't help comparing them.

There was pin-drop silence when the orchestra played that I was reluctant to open my purse to take a tissue out ! seriously !! What was hilarious was the bout of sneezing and coughing that would follow every piece......apparently everyone was holding it in for the break !!! Camera then zooms to our katcheri where people are talking to each other, next to them, behind them, in front of them, on the cell phone and all this is interspersed with occasional camera flashes and sounds of cranky kids.

The members of the orchestra looked grim and serious (like they were writing board exams completely unprepared) and not once did one of them talk to another or look away from their notes or show any sign of relaxing and not once did one of them smile while playing. I am thinking of the singers grinning at each other when one of them improvises, the Mridungam taking a break to let the violin in the forefront and vice versa and all along everyone seems to make eye contact with each other and with the audience.

When the violin solos were played, as much as I liked them, I did not find them powerful (inspite of all the great acoustic arrangements in the concert hall). When Beethoven's symphony was played, I enjoyed it very much and the power in it came from a well synchronised orchestra of more than 20 people. Rewind to the katcheri (Indian classical concert) in 2008 and couldn't help wondering how 4 people were able to produce the same effect on me, in a much simpler hall.

When the show was done, the orchestra got a standing ovation and we clapped until our hands ached and even when I stopped, the others went on, seriously ! It went on for minutes and the orchestra were tired of bowing at one point (I personally thought it was overdoing it but I learnt later that its the Dutch way) ! Obviously I thought about our Katcheri and how some clap and only a few of them whole heartedly, while the rest are in a hurry to leave to get to their parking spots before anyone else does.

I learnt during the concert that the role of the conductor is important during the rehearsals since he makes sure that the instruments and their tone complement each other and produce the intended effect but on stage, he is just there to satisfy the audience. The conductor was so excited that he was practically jumping with the beats and was red and sweating by the time the concert was over, when our host said ''now you know why there are no fat conductors''....true, now I know !
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