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Captivating And Enchanting – LearnQuest Music Conference 2011

Purba Debnath

A little more than a week ago, from March 30th to April 3rd, the beautiful concert halls of the Tsai Auditorium at Harvard University, Boston University Law Auditorium and Regis College at Weston were filled steadily with aficionados of raga music and celebrated names in the Indian classical music scene. In its sixth year, the LearnQuest Annual Music Conference’s tradition of presenting outstanding musicians from both, the Hindustani (North Indian) and Carnatic (South Indian) musical systems, was well served and has expanded impressively. In a five-day run, the music festival presented twenty concerts featuring over sixty musicians and music educators of Indian classical music from India and the USA. The repertory included a bit of everything: traditional Hindustani and Carnatic vocal and instrumental performances, contemporary Carnatic-Jazz fusion and percussion ensemble, a unique series of Jugalbandi (duet) concerts between various styles, a lecture and concert highlighting the confluence of Rabindra Sangeet and classical music in commemoration of the Noble Laureate Rabindranath Tagore, a lecture demonstration that highlighted the connection between  Hindustani Dhrupad tradition and some of the Carnatic compositions of one of the famed trinity composers, Muthuswami Dikshitar, and a rare film screening on Bharat Ratna Late Pandit Bhimsen Joshi. The unique program format that alternated Hindustani and Carnatic music received much praise from music enthusiasts, artists and scholars such as Dr. Kanniks Kannikeswaran, composer and musican, who commented on the invaluable cross-educating platform provided in this music festival for people to explore India’s rich musical heritage.

The starry assemblage of distinguished performers included the Carnatic violin duo Ganesh and Kumaresh, whose melodious and energetic style wrapped in an unconventional approach yet with complete devotion to the rules of the Carnatic musical system delighted the audience. The joyful and improvisatory freedom in Pandit Sanjeev Abhayankar’s Hindustani vocal music and the graceful, emotive quality and virtuosity of Pandit Partha Bose’s sitar were fitting to the serene halls of the Fine Arts Center at Regis College.  The lively cascade of music in the sounds of the chitraveena, Carnatic vocal music, violin and mridangam presented by Kiranavali and the Carnatica Brothers on one hand, and the percussion ensemble Madhyalaya led by Pandit Akhilesh Gundecha featuring an array of instruments such as the pakhawaj, dholak, duff, tabla and harmonium, on the other hand, was electrifying to the musical environment. The young exponent of the Jaipur-Atrauli gharana, Manjiri Asnare Kelkar mesmerized the audience with her very aesthetic and melodious performance. Perhaps the best articulation of her music can be felt in the words of visual artist, musician and writer, Junuka Deshpande who said, “Manjiri ji sang with tremendous focus on unfolding every nook of the particular raga as if the raga was her home that she is showing around. But the most important character of her music was that it reached beyond decoration showing the abundance of transcending points leaving you with a soft flowing form.” The other noteworthy performances came from the renowned Hindustani vocalist, Pandit Shounak Abhisheki, harmonium exponent, Suyog Kundalkar, the very young and extremely talented tabla player, Himanshu Mahant, and the pleasing sitar-mandolin jugalbandi concert by Indrajit Banerjee and Snehashish Manjumdar.

The three special events included in the LearnQuest conference added another dimension to the music festival. The classical music influences on the alluring compositions of Rabindranath Tagore were beautifully illustrated in the presentation by Harvard Professor, Dr. Sugato Bose, Hindustani vocalist Pandit Sandip Ghosh, sarodist Anirban Dasgupta, and Rabindranath Sangeet vocalists Sujata Bhattacharya and Sumit Nag. The introductory comments by Hindustani vocalist and scholar, Warren Senders, before the screening of a documentary and a performance by the late Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, were witty, inspiring and enlightening. Dr. Kanniks Kannikeswaran received a standing ovation for an informative and fascinating lecture demonstration on ‘Dhrupad and Carnatic compositions by Muthuswami Dikshitar, a comparative study.’

This year the LearnQuest Music Conference featured several memorable performances from a gamut of musicians closer to home and from the USA. The music ranged from authentic classical performances such as a traditional Carnatic veena concert by Harvard professor, Dr. Richard Wolf, with mridangam accompaniment by Wesleyan University’s Dr. David Nelson, and a traditional and captivating Hindustani flute concert by Steve Gorn,  to a contemporary and dynamic Carnatic and Jazz concert by the Berklee College professor Bruno Raberg and his group Garuda, to an extremely skilled, carnatic violin and vocal performances by Tara Bangalore, as well her students. The New Jersey based young vocalist Roopa Mahadevan came across as the star of the younger generation displaying an impressive command on the nuances of Carnatic vocal music and heartening the audience further with the promise of upholding the traditions of Indian classical music and surpassing geographical boundaries. The Hindustani vocalist Mitali Banerjee Bhawmik received much applause from the audience for her thick textured, speedy leaps and sparkling melodic filigree, while the duet Carnatic-Hindustani concert presented by Carnatic flautist V. K. Raman and sitarist Anupama Bhagwat generated a lot of excitement with their melodic and percussive exchanges.  

An important yet often overlooked element of successful concerts is the accompaniment. Throughout the Hindustani and Carnatic segments, the accompaniments provided by various accomplished as well as upcoming artists such as the Pandit Abhijit Bannerjee (tabla), Patri Satish Kumar (mridangam), Harshad Kanetkar (tabla), Tanjore Govindarajan (tavil), the young Himanshu Mahant (tabla), Trivandrum Balaji (mridangam), Suyog Kundalkar (harmonium), Amit Kavthekar (tabla), Suhas Rao (violin), Ravi Torvi (harmonium), Muruga Boopathi (mridangam), Shyam Kane (tabla), K.V.S. Vinay (violin), Uday Kulkarni (harmonium), Mahalingam Santhanakrishnan (mridangam), Tanmay Deochake (harmonium), Pravin Sitaram (mridangam),  were impeccable.

The beauty and depth of artistry in the Indian classical musical tradition were communicated strongly in the music conference. The strong artist line-up was presented in flawless venues and the music experience was enhanced by the sensitive sound engineering provided by Jawed Wahid and his team. The smooth compering, food arrangements, elegant decorations and the young volunteers who worked constantly attributed greatly to create a vibrant and festive musical environment for all.

The 2011 LearnQuest Music Conference Committee members and the volunteers led by the Chairperson Bhavana Gallewale are to be complimented and commended for a successful planning and execution of this year’s music conference. At the end of the festival, sitarist Pandit Partha Bose commended the LearnQuest Conference Committee for the seamless functioning of the conference. He also stated, “It is rare to find a music festival in this day and age where artists not only perform but are motivated by the ambiance to sit and listen to other artists. LearnQuest Music Conference is a music conference in the true sense of its meaning.” The response from the crowd was synonymous with music connoisseur and sitarist Deepali Khanzode who applauded the conference to be the “Sawai Gandharva Festival” of USA for providing such a cherished musical experience.

(The photo shoot for this event was covered by D&J Photography, www.dnj-photo.com.)

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