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Vasantotsav Music Festival - Rahul Deshpande And Priyanka Barve

Sonali Tambe

A Joyous and Nostalgic Musical Journey
Vasantotsav Music Festival
by Rahul Deshpande and Priyanka Barve

Concert Review by Sonali Tambe

          An annual festival in celebration of the music of Pandit Vasantrao Deshpande, a renowned Marathi classical vocalist, was brought to the US this year. Shadaj, a non-profit organization in the Greater Boston area, organized the event at Collin Center for Performing Arts in Andover on October 8, 2023. Rahul Deshpande and Priyanka Barve, showcased their remarkable talents for classical and contemporary music with everything in between, evoking joyous and nostalgic emotions for a diverse audience.  

          Both Rahul Deshpande and Priyanka Barve hail from families deeply rooted in musical traditions. Rahul Deshpande is the grandson of Pandit Vasantrao Deshpande, an exceptional singer of his generation. Trained as a classical singer, Rahul’s powerful and emotive voice has the remarkable ability to render nuanced, soulful, technically masterful compositions of all genres. Priyanka Barve, with an equally impressive pedigree, is a successful playback singer and actress. She is known for her exceptional vocal agility and ability to convey deep emotions.

          As the lights dimmed, Priyanka Barve took a seat on the stage flanked by accompanists. Her poised, graceful presence immediately commanded the audience’s attention. She started the concert with â€˜Sahela Re…’, a bandish in Bhoop, immortalized by Kishori Amonkar. Many of the phrases in her rendition evoked memories of Kishoritai’s recording. Priyanka presented a famous thumri â€˜Bindiya Le Gayi..’ and a couple of well-known Marathi gazals written by Suresh Bhat. Her mellifluous renditions were infused with emotion and were greatly enjoyed by the audience.

          Rahul Deshpande took the stage next. He started with two bandishes in raag Paraj, showcasing his depth as a vocalist. His modern version of a Marathi bhajan was certainly unconventional. A gentle and soulful rendition of Begam Akhtar’s gazal did not disappoint the audience. The musical storytelling of the creation of the lori in the movie ‘Mi Vasantrao’ was quite interesting.  He also sang the original romantic tune that was seamlessly adopted for the lori. A natyageet â€˜Dil ki tapish..’ was an excellent example of his powerful, commanding voice and musical prowess earning thunderous applause. He proudly proclaimed his rendition of this natyageet as the best of his attempts so far. It was indeed superbly sung and earned an ovation at expected points in the presentation.

          Both Rahul and Priyanka came together on the stage for the second half of the show after an intermission. A popular Marathi abhanga â€˜Kanada o Vitthalu…’ was sure to be a crowd pleaser. The prelude to this abhanga, however, was an interesting experiment in Yaman saragama. It was reminiscent of the dhrupad style without following the exact format of dhrupad. Vasantrao Deshpande, known to have experimented with various musical styles, was especially adept at saragama. Rahul seems to have inherited the quest for musical innovation from his grandfather. Only time will tell if this adds a new dimension to Indian music or if this ends up being a temporary trend. Various other songs, including a popular Marathi movie song, a lavani, and natyageet demonstrated the versatility of both artists.

People who have frequented Rahul Deshpande’s YouTube channel are familiar with his verbose musings on music and related topics. They can be contemplative, introspective, and informative. Listeners enjoy learning about the life experiences and thought processes of celebrities. In a live concert format, such monologues can serve as a good segway into the next piece or give some respite to musicians.  However, there could be a limitation on such exchange. Perhaps a lecture demonstration or audience interaction session would be more enjoyable and appropriate.

          The talented instrumentalists provided a lush backdrop of melodies and rhythm and added richness to the performance. Aditya Oke on Harmonium, Nikhil Phatak on tabla, Rohan Vanage on side rhythm, Anay Gadgil on keyboard, and Sanjoy Das on guitar are all accomplished artists in their own right. The camaraderie between the vocalists and the accompanying artists on stage and off stage ensured that every element of the composition came alive.

 The charismatic, confident, and passionate singers were clearly revered by the audience. Rahul and Priyanka actively engaged with the audience, making them feel like a part of the musical experience. They often encouraged sing-alongs and clapping, fostering a sense of shared joy. This trend is often popular with younger listeners. Given the diversity of the audience, however, keeping such participatory elements at a minimum may be valid to maintain balance.

          The concluding piece was Amir Khusro’s ‘Chaap Tilak…’ followed by a Sindhi bhajan ‘Damadam Mast Kalandar.’ As the concert reached its crescendo with a speedy, highly energetic, precisely composed saragama sung by both artists and accompanied by all instruments, the crowd was enthralled. In Sufi music, this fast-paced, accelerating, and intense music is meant to be inducive of spiritual euphoria. Similarly, the ensemble created a climactic moment in the concert, which was greatly enjoyed by most listeners.

    Shadaj volunteers worked tirelessly for weeks for the execution of the concert. For that, they must take a bow. The concert could not have succeeded without their meticulous planning and execution.

Unlike most concerts organized by Shadaj, this particular event attracted an audience that usually does not attend pure classical concerts. Rahul Deshpande and Priyanka Barve delivered the expectations of the audience with music spanning multiple genres, languages, and styles and took them on a journey of emotions that ranged from sheer joy to nostalgia.


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