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Music Review - Thiruvasakam: A Classical Crossover

Ranjani Saigal

(This article is sponsored by Sounds Of India)

Every since Illayaraja started composing music for Tamil films he has never ceased to amaze his fans with the sheer vareity of his compositions which have spanned across genres of music. "Thiruvasakam – A classical crossover” is a yet another feather in the maestro’s cap and a must buy album . This CD is a unique attempt to present select verses from the Thiruvasakam in a musical form, synthesizing ideas from both the Indian and Western classical traditions.  The Thiruvasakam was composed in the 10th century by Manickavasagar. Manickavasagar was the prime minister in the Pandian kingdom. He later became a saint and composed the 51 verses in the Thiruvasakam in praise of Lord Shiva. The Thiruvasakam is one of the finest pieces of classic Tamil Literature created by one of the greatest devotees of Lord Shiva.

The musical team includes more than 200 musicians from India and Hungary, including the Budapest Symphony Orchestra conducted by Laszlo Kovacs. The English translation of the selected verses is done by Mr. Stephen Schwartz, the Oscar award winning lyricist of Pocahontas and Prince of Egypt. The final mastering is be done by Richard King, the 2004 Grammy winner for the Best Engineered Album in the Classical category.
While the CD is set using mostly Western Classical music, Illayaraja skillfully weaves in other genres of music. The weave is completely seamless. 
The CD has six tracks.

1. Poovaar Senni Mannan - Ilaiyaraaja
2. Pollaa Vinayen - Ilaiyraaaja, Roy Harcourt
3. Pooerukonum Purantharanum - Ilaiyaraaja, Bavatharini
4. Umbarkatkarasaey - Ilaiyaraaja
5. Muthu Natramam - Unnikrishnan, Madhu Balakrishnan, Vijay Jesudas, Manjari, Asha, Gayathri & Chorus
6. Puttril Vazh Aravaun Anjen – Ilaiyaraaja

The album opens with a western drums beats and  choir music. The music creates a spiritual ambience and one is  transported to another plane as Illayaraja himself recites the Thiruvasakam verses. The next piece is the highlight of the album. It is a unique rendition of select verses from the Thiruvasakam where the original Tamil composition sung by Illyaraja in a “Viruttam” fashion is interspersed with the English translation rendered by Roy Harcout in an operatic style. The orchestra provides the background music that blends the two singing styles and the whole effect is soul stirring. The singing clearly brings out the appropriate Bhava reflected in the verses and thus even if you do not understand Thamizh, you cannot but be moved by the rendition.

In the next piece, Illayaraja shifts gears and opens with an exciting fast paced western orchestral score. He uses the violin to play both western and Indian style music and Illayaraja blends male and female voices in an intersting fashion. The end of the piece is almost bhajan-like with the sound of the cymbals accompanying the voice. In the next track the emphasis shifts back to vocals. Illyaraja sings the verses in a "Viruttam" fashion contrasting it against the backdrop of  choir music. In Muthu Natramam , Illyaraja uses a variety of voices and the chorus is in an Indian style. Puttril Vazh Aravaun Anjen brings the album to a beautiful conclusion.

The producers hope this music will be played by great orchestras and choirs all over the world so that the words of Manickavasagar and the music of Illayaraja may reach spaces that have hitherto been unaware of the greatness of both. The CD makes a great gift to the younger generation as a way to bring them their culture and to westerners who may also be unaware of the great Tamil works. The producers hope that this album can be submitted for prestigious awards like the Grammy that may bring it the special recognition it deserves.  As one listens to the album it is clear that this was as much spiritual journey for Illayaraja and those involved in the project as the Thiruvasakam was for Manickavasagar. We pray that the great Lord Shiva blesses the efforts and help in bringing this work to the world.

To buy the CD please visit www.tis-usa.com.


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