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Agra Gharana Vocalist Delights Music Lovers In A MITHAS Presentation

Shuchita Rao

On a beautiful Sunday afternoon, November 3, at 4pm, MITHAS presented Vidushi Aditi Kaikini Upadhya in a Hindustani vocal music concert at MIT’s Wong auditorium, Cambridge, MA. The concert began with New England’s much loved Sarod player, Dr. George Ruckert’s welcome address to the audience and introduction of the artists, vocalist Smt. Aditi Upadhya (daughter of the renowned Agra gharana doyen, the late Pandit Dinkar Kaikini), the harmonium artist, Shri Neelesh Nadkarni and tabla artist, Shri Kishan Patel. He recalled an incident from several years ago in San Rafael, California, when his Guru, the late Ustad Ali Akbar Khan requested him to play the harmonium and accompany a visiting artist from India, Pandit Dinkar Kaikini. The concert went well and Pandit Kaikini was happy with the accompaniment on the harmonium. While hearing the narration of this incident, the audience was reminded of how Indian classical music concerts are unique because they allow for spontaneous interactions between artists to happen directly on the stage without prior rehearsals. That spontaneity allows for the artists and audience to live in the moment and enjoy music as a shared experience.

Dressed in an elegant green silk sari with an oatmeal colored shawl draped around her shoulders, Vidushi Aditi Kaikini introduced the first composition as a traditional composition in afternoon raga Bhimpalasi set to slow tempo twelve beat cycle ektaal and the second one as a Punjabi language composition set to a faster tempo sixteen beat cycle, teentaal. In a detailed rendition of raga Bhimpalasi that lasted almost an hour, the artist successfully created a peaceful atmosphere initially through the medium of Dhrupad style Nom-Tom alaap. The first part of the alaap was leisurely while the second part was dynamic in its movement resting for briefer periods of time on important musical rest notes in the raga. She then rendered the composition “Ub tho sun lay” with the climactic point of the rhythm cycle synchronizing with the utterance of the word “lay”. She sang several alaaps (slow melodic movements), building slowly and steadily from the tonic and notes in the lower register to movements in the middle and upper register using several words of the composition. Her open throated, sweet voice and robust presentation style caught the attention of concert attendee Bruce Scott, who said that he was also struck by the fluid manner in which she traversed multiple musical registers. The faster composition was delivered in a brisk manner, with wonderful rhythmic exchanges with her accompanists, ornamented gamak taans (fast melodic passages using solfege) and exciting tihais (a short musical phrase sung thrice consecutively to culminate on the climactic point of the rhythmic cycle).

Next, Vidushi Aditi Kaikini presented a short composition in Raga Poorvee set to sixteen beat rhythm cycle, teentaal with the words “Banata Banaaoo” followed by “Saajan Ghur Aaye”, a composition by her father, the late Pandit Dinkar Kaikini, replete with Shringaar (romantic) rasa. With the early sunset and the darkness setting in, the raga was a perfect choice to create an atmosphere of longing for the beloved. The alaaps developed with poise and imagination in the first composition contrasted with the rhythmic interplay of words and aakaar taans in the second composition brought great joy to the audience.

After a short intermission, in the next segment of the presentation, two compositions in an ancient raga, MargBihag (raga Bihag sung in the style of Raga Kalyan) were the first to be rendered.  “Maata Saraswati” in praise of the Goddess of learning and the arts, set to ten beat cycle jhaptaal in the Brij Bhasha dialect of Hindi language followed by “Pari moray kaan dhanak murli ki taan” describing the magic of Lord Krishna’s skill in playing the bansuri, set to  sixteen beat teentaal, were both elegant in their architecture. Shri Neelesh Nadkarni shadowed the artist wonderfully on the harmonium, adding his own imaginative ideas to the presentation.

The next offering was an interesting devotional composition, a thumri numa bhajan “Kub Aave Ram” where every new verse that narrated the story of the Hindu epic Ramayana, ended with a fast laggi rhythmic movement, showcasing the tabla artist’s ability to switch from a fourteen beat cycle “chaachar” to a faster tempo sixteen beat cycle and back to the fourteen beat cycle.

The artist concluded with the famous thumri in raga Bhairavi “Babul Mora Naihar Chhooto bhi jaaye” creating a pensive ambience with the rendition of the touching lyrics. This concert was steeped in pure melody enhanced by sensitive accompaniment on the harmonium and tabla and without a trace of gimmicks or theatrics. Kudos to the artists and organizers, MITHAS for presenting a soul-touching Hindustani music offering.


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