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Mridangam Arangetram: Inesh Vytheswaran

Sunanda Narayanan
08/01/2019

Mridangam Arangetram: Inesh Vytheswaran

There is a satiety that comes from eating a ‘Thali’ meal including a variety of tastes – each dish unique in flavor, but that creates a whole that delights. It was with such satiety that one left Inesh Vytheswaran’s recent mridangam arangetram, held at Wellesley High School in July 2019. This performance went well beyond the parameters of a regular mridangam arangetram in the medley of artistic experiences it afforded the audience.

Inesh’s training as described in the beautiful program book created for the occasion did suggest that we were in for a unique recital, and live up to that expectation he did! Inesh had his initial mridangam training under Shri Mahalingam Santhanakrishnan and has been under the guidance of Dr. Rohan Krishnamurthy for the past four years. He opened the evening accompanying well-known Carnatic vocalist, Roopa Mahadevan, from New York and skilled violinist, Sandhya Anand, from New Jersey. This section of the program was structured in the format of a traditional Carnatic cutcheri (recital) from Varnam to Tillana. The songs in this section were set to a variety of talams – Ata, Rupakam, Adi, Kanda Chapu, and Misra Chapu, and this provided ample scope for Inesh to showcase his understanding of each. Roopa’s resonant and melodious voice, Sandhya’s smooth bowing, and Inesh’s unobtrusive yet effective drumming created many poignant moments right from the opening Kaanada varnam ‘Nera Nammiti’. He knew instinctively how to modulate his sound – strident when necessary as in ‘Sogasuga Mridanga Talamu’ or sweet and subtle as in ‘ Krishna Nee Begane Baro’.  Roopa and Sandhya threw many challenges at Inesh in the neraval and kalpanaswaram sections of the kritis ‘Parvathy Nayakane’ and ‘Pakkala Nilabadi’, and he rose up to them with a smile and the composure of a veteran. In the solo ‘tani avartanam’, there was grace and mellow maturity in his playing, which is notable, because there is always the temptation to indulge in sound and fury on the part of percussionists to energize the audience. The tisram (3-beat) rhythmic variations in Inesh’s solo were rendered with particular ease and poise.

 A special word here for compere, Ashwini Vytheswaran, who introduced each song in the program succinctly while drawing attention to the reason it had been selected for this debut recital. Ashwini herself danced to the closing Sindhubhairavi Tillana, a tricky composition of violin maestro Shri Lalgudi Jayaraman. Inesh’s accompaniment and the farans (fast-paced percussive fingering) were striking and it was heartwarming to see the sister-brother duo on stage together.

After the brief intermission, one noticed that the stage set-up had been changed. Inesh presented his own composition, Algo-Rhythms, with his composition teacher, Dr. Stephen Halloran from The Rivers School Conservatory, on the piano, and Tara Chambers, a professional cellist. The piece was intriguing and engaging as it wove between Carnatic and Western music sensibilities in alternating sections. It started off on a meditative note but built up to a gripping crescendo. It was wonderful to see Inesh’s teacher’s evident enjoyment of his student’s composition and the trio make beautiful music together on stage.

Next came ‘Vibration of Fingers’ – a percussive exploration by Inesh and Jorge Villanueva, a Latin Grammy-nominated percussionist. This was a rousing, celebration of different percussive instruments and techniques. One could see how the artists fed off each other’s ideas and enthusiasm, and it was a truly delightful showcasing of imagination and virtuosity.

By now, the audience’s appetite for the avant-garde had been whetted, and ‘Migration Too’ (composer Elizabeth Start) by violinist, Kiyoshi Hayashi, and Inesh followed. Inesh responded to every inflection in the music, embellishing it delicately and with restraint.

The finale was a special treat combining Kathak dancing by Anjali Nath, tap dancing by Ian Berg, and mridangam by Inesh. In this improvised section that demanded speedy reflexes and technical prowess from each of the artists, Inesh was able to make his percussion sound like the tabla for Kathak and a set of drums for the tap-dancing. It literally brought the audience to their feet for a well-deserved ovation for talented young Inesh!

Managing rehearsal and stage logistics for a small team of musicians is challenging enough, and one marveled at the ease with which this program combining so many artists, genres, and stage requirements had been presented – special kudos to the parents for this mammoth organizational effort. Kudos also to Inesh’ teacher, Rohan, for having allowed his student to explore and excel in so many facets of percussion.

Much of what Inesh presented on stage at this recital was improvised and the perfection spoke to hours of practice and composure when placed in the spotlight. When Inesh had assured his father, Karthi, that ‘everything would be okay’, it was a mammoth understatement, because what this young man pulled off was a veritable feat and a magnificent melding of east and west.

Congratulations Inesh and best wishes for many years of musical exploration and growth!

 



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