Perambulating the Bounds

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Ganesh and Kumaresh

Just got back from a lovely concert at Sri Ganesha, Ganesh and Kumaresh, two brothers who both play violin. They’ve got an interesting thing going, integrating lots of Western elements—playing techniques, harmony, and counterpoint. Some pieces were very traditional, based on Carnatic song forms, but others sounded nearly like Western classical music. The brothers are both extremely virtuosic—they can play really fast, in tandem, and seemed to be having a great time. They made very effective use of short, abrupt figures, and they were accompanied by both mridangam and ghattam, so there was a lot of energy. In certain pieces they would use surprisingly Western techniques like having one violin accompany the other with a little pizzicato figure, something I don’t think you ever hear in Indian music, or harmonizing in thirds. Some of the ragas they chose had many characteristics of a major scale, and they seemed to play that up. On one piece where the percussion dropped out, the violin lines at times sounded like Ralph Vaughan Williams, say The Lark Ascending. It was something about the way some lines would end downwards, and the quiet, delicate fast passages slipped into this lyrical piece.

Sankaran Mahadevan says the brothers have not studied Western music, just picked up ideas from listening and working on it on their own. Well, it seems to work. Their cross-over use of Western elements in a fundamentally Indian context worked a lot better than what you usually get when you go the other direction and use ragas in a classical, pop or jazz piece. And even when the notes and counterpoint sounded very Western, the structure was still Indian. Pieces still ended with a typical sequence of gestures—a fast passage repeated several times, then a languid line, and maybe a final punch from the percussion. However, at the end of the day I think their more traditional pieces were more moving. The Westernized figures have an abstract quality that shaved off a little of the soulfulness.

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