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12th Annual LearnQuest Music Conference Binds Boston Music Lovers In A Spell

Durga Krishnan and Shuchita Rao

Approximately 400 music lovers attended the 12th annual music conference organized by Waltham based LearnQuest Music Academy. The twin traditions of Indian classical music, Hindustani from North India and Carnatic from South India were ably represented by 45 top-notch classical musicians from India. Four lecture-cum-demonstrations on the topics of “Santoor instrument” by Pandit Satish Vyas held at Berklee College of Music,  “Tarana” by Smt. Subhadra Desai  and “Journey of Harmonium” by Pandit Ravindra Katoti at Creative Academy of Arts, “Saxophone Jugalbandi” by Phil Scarff and Sumanth Swaminathan at Baithak music hall in Framingham were held in the week of April 10 leading up to the weekend music festival that started on Friday, April 14 and ended on Sunday, April 16. The lectures were scholarly and the music presentations were appealing to a diverse international audience consisting of music lovers.

Community leader Shri Puran Dang inaugurated the weekend music festival on the evening of Friday, April 14. Over 25 young students in the age group of 5 and 13 from Learnquest Academy and RASA school of Music kicked off the music events with a choral piece “Baal Geet” composed by late Pandit Dinkar Kaikini. The ensuing performances that evening and for the next two days provided great joy to the audience which had several music lovers from out of Massachusetts State in attendance. A beautifully designed magazine consisting of articles on Agra, Banaras and Dhrupad gharanas, tribute to Gurus by Hindustani vocalist Smt. Arati Ankalikar Tikekar and Carnatic vocalist Smt. Aparna Balaji, an interview with tabla maestro Pandit Rajendra Nakod as well as an article on the violin instrument  provided excellent reading material to the concert attendees. A well-organized art exhibition, hot meals available all day long in the cafeteria, sale of healthy snacks and beverages by young school aged volunteer children, attractive displays of recorded music, jewelry and clothing by vendors complimented the music recitals. The Learnquest conference will be completed with a 3 day residential Dhrupad retreat by the renowned Gundecha brothers titled “Boston Dhrupad Days” and presented in collaboration with the Dhrupad Institute of America on April 21, 22 and 23.

Report on the Carnatic Performances :

The 12th annual Music Conference organized by LearnQuest Academy of Music started with a bang on Friday the 14th of April with a Carnatic vocal concert by Trichur Srikrishna Mohan and Ramkumar Mohan, more popularly known as the Trichur Brothers with their father Trichur R. Mohan accompanying them on the mridangam. Rajeev Mukund, a senior disciple of Sangita Kalanidhi A. Kanyakumar accompanied them on the violin. The brothers started the concert with the famous Pada varnam Chalamela in the Raga Nattaikurinji set to Adi tala and that itself set the mood for the rest of the concert. They Jampupathe, one of Muthuswamy Dikshidar's Pancha Linga kritis set to Yamuna Kalyani raga in praise of Shiva as one of the five elements water. After a brisk Thyagaraja kriti Sitamma Mayamma in Vasantha the brothers moved on to the main item of the evening, a Ragam, Tanam Pallavi in the raga Charukesi. They took turns in doing the raga elaboration or alapana complimenting each other's imagination and creativity that enthralled audience. This alapana was followed by a tanam in ragamalika and then the pallavi. The concert ended with a couple of bajans.

The second day, Saturday the 15th started with a Carnatic vocal concert by the seasoned veteran vidwan Sri O.S. Thyagarajan with the accompaniments of Srimushnam Raja Rao, another veteran vidwan on mridangam and Mysore Srikanth on the violin. Sri OST performed five Thyagaraja kritis that kept the audience mesmerized. The afternoon slot belonged to the  group called Damaru, four very young artists Neelakandan Ramachandran on Bansuri flute, Rupak Desai on the tabla, Krishnan Sriram on the ghatam and Sai Raghavan on the mridangam. Their performance was very energetic and exciting the delight of the audience. The first of the two main evening concerts of the day was given by another young artist, Sandeep Narayan, a senior disciple of Sangita Kalanidhi Sanjay Subrahmanian. He was accompanied by the veteran mridangist Srimushnam Raja Rao and violinist Mysore Srikanth. Starting the concert with the Thyagaraja kriti Makelara Vicharamu in the raga Ravichandrika set to Adi tala, Sandeep immediately took the audience to emotional heights. He took the raga Bhairavi for his main item. After a very quintessential alapana of the raga he sang one of Thayagaraja's gem Upacharamu with brisk swara kalpana patterns. Srimushnam then performed a mridangam solo that complimented Sandeep's performance and thrilled the audience. The concert ended with a ragamalika and a bajan in the raga Ahirbhairavi.

The highlight of the Carnatic segment of this conference was the felicitation to the violin legend, 89 year young Padmabhushan Prof. T.N. Krishnan and his performance on the third and final day, April 16th. Our local veena artist/teacher and Learn Quest faculty member Durga Krishnan talked about the Life time achievement award, its significance, the criteria for some to be given this award and the past recipients of the award and then she invited the local violinist and popular teacher Tara Bangalore to do the honor. Tara very eloquently talked about the achievements of Prof. Krishnan and presented him with the plaque while the Conference Chair Anish Khanzode felicitated the artist with a shawl. After giving a very heartfelt acceptance speech Prof. T.N. Krishnan started the concert with the able accompaniment of his son Sriram Krishnan on the violin and T.S. Nandakumar and Chandrasekar Sharma on mridangam and ghatam respectively. The Kamas raga alapana followed by Thyagaraja's composition Sita pate and the kriti Sukhi Evaro in raga Kanada with an elaborate alapana and brisk swara kalpana would stay in the rasikas' minds forever. The Conference ended with a bang just as it started with a very high energy saxophone concert by Kalaimamani Kadri Gopalnath accompanied on the violin by Sangita Kalanidhi A. Kanyakumari and on the tavil and tabla by T.R. Govindarajan and Rajesh Nakod respectively. Vidwan Kadri started the concert with Sri Ganesa Charanam, a kriti in the raga Tilang by Papanasam Sivan. He took the popular raga Hindolam (Malkaus) for the main piece and played the evergreen kriti Samaja Varagamana by Thyagaraja that was followed by a percussion duet by Govindarajan and Rajesh. The concert ended with a mangalam on goddess Lakshmi in the raga Madhyamavathi.

Report on Hindustani performances:

Smt. Arati Ankalikar Tikekar commenced a two hour long vocal recital on Friday, April 14 after the Trichur brothers with an in-depth exploration of Raag Kedaar with khyaal and tarana compositions that showed exemplary command over sur, laya and bhava. Full throated, powerful voice projection, dynamic build-up of the structure of the raga through imaginative alaaps and fast sweeping taans marked her presentation. She then reminisced her time learning from the legendary vocalist, the late Gaan Saraswati Smt. Kishori Amonkar who passed away recently and presented khyaal and tarana compositions in raga Basant-Bahar  which she had learned from her Guru. A chaiti, a tappa and abhang constituting three attractive semi-classical offerings followed and the recital concluded with a composition in raga Bhairavi set to a rarely heard 9.5 beat time cycle. Shri Nitin Mitta on the tabla, Shri Ravindra Katoti on the harmonium, Smt. Pradnya Jadhav and Jai Garud, disciples of Aratiji on the tanpura, provided excellent support to the main artist.

On Saturday, April 15, the emerging vocalist duo Shri Ritesh and Rajnish Mishra presented the gaayaki of Banaras gharana with compositions in morning ragas Desi and Brindaavani Saarang accompanied by Shri Hindole Majumdar on the tabla and Shri Anirban Chakrabarty on the harmonium. Powerful voices, structured development of the chosen ragas, crisp diction and delivery of the compositions, good coordination between themselves and accompanying artists marked their presentation. A touch of humor regarding the limited allotted time by weaving in the phrase “Paanch minute baaki hain” in their rendition of Saarang composition evoked laughter among the attendees. The rendition by this vocalist duo reminded the audience of the pleasing music of their father and uncle Pandit Rajan and Sajan Mishra. It was clear that they carry the weight of the legacy they have been bestowed with, extremely well.

A soulful presentation of compositions in ragas Madhuvanti, Puriya Dhanashri, Khamaj and Mishra Pahadi by Ruchira Panda of Kotali gharana (disciple of Pandit Manas Chakrabarty) was a treat for music lovers. Tap-khyaal marked with crisp taans and Birha were two new genres that the audience got to hear in this music festival. Shri Ramdas Palsule on tabla and Shri Anirban Chakrabarty on the harmonium provided competent support to the artist. 

An informative film on the Gwalior gharana directed by Nandit Desai was screened multiple times on Saturday. A tribute to Gaan Saraswati Smt. Kishori Amonkar consisting of group listening session of Kishoriji’s music, discussion and slideshow presentation was led by Shuchita Rao on Saturday afternoon.

An instrumental trio consisting of the Saarangi, Sitar and Tabla led by 2017 Grammy award winner tabla maestro Sandeep Das delighted the audience with the presentation of alaap, jod, jhaala followed by a composition set to 16 beat cycle teentaal in the Raga Marubihag. A challenging composition in the fourteen beat cycle Dhamar was followed by a lilting semi-classical piece, a Hori popularized by late Smt. Shobha Gurtu. Between poetry recitation and singing, the sonorous sound of Saarangi and Sitar accompanied by flamboyant tabla playing in the tradition of Kishan Maharaj’s Banaras Gharana kept the attention of the audience till the late hours of Saturday night. “You are better than the Delhi audiences who promptly leave the auditorium at 9pm” remarked the tabla maestro Sandeep Das.

The first performance of Sunday morning, April 16 was a spiritual and meditative journey into the world of Dhrupad and Dhamar. The renowned Dagar Bani vocalist duo, the Gundecha brothers accompanied by their brother, the Pakhawaj maestro Shri Akhilesh Gundecha presented alaap, jod and jhaala followed by a Dhamar and Dhrupad in the morning raga Komal Rishabh Asavari.  “I had never heard a live dhrupad performance before and it was incredibly moving for me. I'm not super knowledgeable about this music but as a listener it's deeply inspiring to me, and to experience it live in a community that really loves and appreciates it is very inspiring too.” said Professor Ted Reichman of the New England Conservatory.

Debashish Bhattacharya on the Chaturangui presented an incredibly melodious rendition of afternoon raga Bhimpalasi. The rich and resonant sound of the slide guitar found a great match in the excellent tabla accompaniment by Shri Nitin Mitta. Starting with a slow alaap and building steadily upto a fast tempo, the energetic rendition never for a moment slipped in the high aesthetic quality of the presentation.

The Learnquest music festival ended on a high note partnering with WorldCrashArts in bringing to the Boston music lovers a show by Rahul Sharma (son of the legendary Pandit Shivkumar Sharma) on the Santoor and the world famous, Ustad Zakir Hussain on tabla. Alaap, Jod, Jhaala and a composition in nine beat cycle matta taal with plenty of engaging layakaari  in the romantic raga Rageshree was the main fare. The recital concluded with a catchy dhun in Mishra Pahaadi composed by Rahul Sharma.

For the past twelve years, the Learnquest conference has fulfilled its mission of connecting people through music. This year’s team - the conference committee chaired by Shri Anish Khanzode, the dedicated volunteers who managed the ticketing and stage decorations, team of emcees and the families who generously opened up their homes to host visiting artists were all part of this large scale musical undertaking . Kudos to Dr. Pradeep Shukla, sponsors and volunteers and members of the Learnquest 2017 conference committee for a memorable 12th annual music conference.

(Photos: Neil Pandit )

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