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LearnQuest Academy’s 5th Annual Music Conference

Durga Krishnan and Shuchita Rao

LearnQuest Academy’s 5th Annual Music Conference commenced on the evening of March 31 with a collaborative presentation between a North Indian instrumental ensemble and a Boston University Jazz ensemble . Eminent flautist Rakesh Chaurasia, sitarist Purbayan Chatterjee and tablist Yogesh Samsi comprised the Hindustani music ensemble and Colin Sapp on guitar, Michael Flanagan on saxophone, Greg Loughman on electric bass and Mike Connors on Western drums were part of the  Boston University  Jazz ensemble. Together, the combined Indo-Jazz ensemble opened the concert with a melodious Raga Charukesi. The second presentation was a composition in the popular night-time raga Yaman set to 7 beat Roopak taal cycle. The concluding item was a semi-classical melody set to Raga Pahadi. Hindustani music is similar to Western jazz in the aspect of spontaneous melodic and rhythmic improvisations happening real-time in front of an audience. All artists showed excellent team collaboration skills and also took turns to present brief solo performances on their respective instruments. The performance was well appreciated by an international audience of music enthusiasts and made for a strong opening for the 5-day long music conference.

The second day of the conference April 1, was an evening program held in collaboration with MITHAS, and was a lecture demonstration on the subject “Evolution of Ragas” by the Carnatic star Shri T.M. Krishna. A special mention needs to be made about this program as it  attracted almost a full house in the Kirsch auditorium at MIT on a weekday evening. The audience was enthralled by the subject matter and the presentation.

The program on the third day, Friday, April 2nd 2010 started in grand style with a Carnatic violin concert by Lalgudi Smt. Shreemathi Brahmanandam with her daughter Anuradha Sridhar and accompanied on the mridangam by her son Lalgudi Shriram Brahmanandam. The name Lalgudi is synonymous with the instrument violin as the brother of Smt. Brahmanandam is the violin maestro Shri Lalgudi G. Jayaraman and the brother and sister duo used to mesmerize the audience with their impeccable violin concerts in the late 50’s and throughout the 60’s. This violin concert was no exception as the mother and daughter team presented a very memorable concert. One of the things that is very special about the Lalgudi style is to present a complete and satisfying concert regardless of the time allotted and they did exactly that this time too by starting the concert with a kriti on deity on Rama by St. Thyagaraja and after a short piece they chose the Carnatic Bhairavi and Dikshitar’s Balagopalam in double beat Adi tala as the main piece. The Bhairavi alapana, the kriti and the swarakalpana or improvisation that followed the kriti brought justice to the raga. There was a solo by mridangam artist Shriram at the end of the song. They then played a ragam, thanam, Pallavi in the raga Kapi and exchanged swaras in a string of ragas and ended the concert with a thillana by Shri Lalgudi G. Jayaraman in the raga Durga.

Indian vocalist of Jaipur-Atrauli gharana, Ashwini Bhide Deshpande gave a Hindustani vocal recital next, accompanied by Seema Shirodkar on harmonium and Vishwanath Shirodkar on tabla. She opened her recital with a detailed exploration of Raga Bihag, building the character of the raga through marked glides between pancham and gandhaar notes in the middle octave. Raga Manikauns came next, with a composition “Rang daran de” set to 7 beat roopak rhythmic cycle, describing the Holi festival of colors. The soulful rendition of two bhajans, one by poet Soordas describing Draupadi’s distress and an abhang “Zhaale Samaadhan” reverberated with rich acoustics in the auditorium. Sound engineer Jawed Wahid and his team’s efforts with sound system were commendable.

Saturday April 3rd morning started with an ensemble of 10 veenas, all students of Smt. Durga Krishnan. This group of young teenagers presented 4 items in the Carnatic style and the coordination of the team can only be compared to a symphony. Durga Krishnan herself then performed a brief concert featuring the Carnatic Subha Panthuvarali (Thodi in Hindustani) and delighted the audience. Shri Gaurishankar, well-known mridangam artist from Boston accompanied them.

George Ruckert, professor of music at MIT brought to the conference  a documentary film on the life of late legendary sarod player Ali Akbar Khan. The late Khansahib was a recipient of MacArthur fellowship, National heritage fellowship from National Endowment of Arts, U.S.A and  Padma Vibhushan award from Government of India. The black and white documentary film detailed his life  through interviews and had several scenes describing his music-centric childhood, his relationship with his talented musician father Baba Allaudin Khan and also included clips of music lessons  given by Baba to him and the celebrated sitarist Ravi Shankar . It also highlighted the spiritual aspect of Indian classical music  and defined its primary purpose as union with GOD.

Debapriya Adhikary, a young vocalist and disciple of Smt. Girija Devi presented Ragas Shuddha Saarang and Dhani after the film show. Blessed with a smooth and mellifluous voice that brought to mind the Shehnai instrument, the artist brought out the character of the two ragas through careful and methodical development and the use of appropriate ornamentation. His command over sur, laya and bhaava was impeccable and the use of a variety of sargam and aakaar taans were the highlight of his presentation. He was accompanied by Vishal Nagar on tabla and Boston's Ravi Torvi on harmonium.

In keeping with the tradition of the Learnquest music conference each year of encouraging young and upcoming stars, Shri Kunnakkudi Balamuralikrishna took stage next and presented a Carnatic vocal recital accompanied on the violin by Shri K.V.S. Vinay and mridangam by Shri Mahalingam Santhanakrishnan, both of whom are from Boston area. His alapana in the ragam varali and the St. Thyagaraja’s Eti Janmamidhira will stay in the minds of the audience for a very long time.

World renowned Mandolin artist Shri U. Shrinivas delighted the audience with a very friendly lecture demonstration on the instrument and his playing style where he got the audience involved throughout. He later performed a Carnati c Mandolin concert with his brother U. Rajesh, accompanied by Shri Madhirimangalam Swaminathan on the mridangam and S.V. Ramani on the ghatam. The main piece he chose for the evening was Kapali, a Tamil composition by Papanasam Sivan in the ragam Mohanam. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration if one says he had the audience eating off of the palm of his hand. Later in the evening he performed a Jugalbandhi concert with Shahid Parvez.

In the early evening hours of Saturday evening, Hindustani vocalist Jayateertha Mevundi sang compositions in Ragas Marwa and Kedar in a style reminiscent of Pandit Bhimsen Joshi. Two concluding abhang style Kannada bhajans including the famous “Kshetra vitthala, teertha vitthala” proved very popular with the audience. Guruprasad Hegde on harmonium and Bharat Kamat on tabla provided great support to the vocalist.

As evening melted into night, the well known sitarist Ustad Shahid Parvez  accompanied by Shubhajyoti Guha on tabla presented a tuneful raga Bihag. In a surprise twist, he followed it with a fact-paced composition in raga NatBihag. A memorable jugalbandhi between Mandolin U. Shrinivas  and Ustad Shahid Parvez followed his sitar solo. The two artists  chose to present raga Kirwani  and displayed a great sense of mutual respect towards each other’s creativity. Based on requests for more music from the audience , they concluded with a composition in raga Bhairavi.

Young Hindustani violinist from California, Raginder Singh who is a disciple of Smt. Sisir kanadhar Choudhuri opened the final day of the conference, Sunday, April 4  with a morning rendition of  Raga Basant Mukhari. He was accompanied by Rohit Majumdar on tabla. He concluded with a Gurmat Sangeet style Bhairavi raga based kirtan.

Shubhangi Sakhalkar from California took stage next. She  presented a vilambit and a drut composition raga Vilaskhani Todi and then went on to present amadhya-laya khyaal in raga Shuddha Sarang followed by a Nirguni bhajan “Hirna samajh boojh bun charnaa”. Ram Marathe on harmonium and Rohit Majumdar on tabla provided measured and beautiful accompaniment.

A vibrant presentation by the group called Akshara from New York combining Carnatic , Hindustani and Jazz traditions was a great hit with the audience.

A two part concert in Hindustani style followed, first featuring Samanwaya Sarkar, a young and upcoming Sitarist from Kolkatta, India on sitar. He presented a melodius afternoon raga, Brindavani Sarang. Samanwaya’s  musicianship, exemplary command over technique  became apparent very quickly.  He was joined by Debapriya Adhikary after his sitar recital, and together with tabla accompaniment by Vishal Nagar, the trio only in their twenties gave a fabulous musical treat to the audience. Afternoon raga Bhimpalasi was followed by rendition of a difficult musical form, tappa. The two disciples of the well-known Smt. Girija Devi, Debapriya and Samanwaya made a huge impact in the 2010 Learnquest conference with presentation of  music of the Benaras Gharana in complementary styles, Debapriya using the medium of human voice and Samanwaya using the medium of sitar.

A ceremony honoring three prominent promoters of Indian Classical Music in the New England region, Shri Datta Dandekar, Dr. Suresh Mathur and Rekha Chitre followed the duo’s recital. LearnQuest academy of music’s  founder Pradeep Shukla and chairman of 2010 conference Prem Nagar presented them with lifetime music awards.  Each of the honorees took turns to speak briefly about their journeys in popularizing Indian Classical Music in New England region. The 80th birthday of Dr. Suresh Mathur was also celebrated in the lobby with cake for all conference attendees.

Sunday conference featured a vocal concert by Smt. Sangeetha Sivakumar and this concert was dedicated to the memory of the Carnatic icon Shri G.N. Balasubramaniam since Sangeetha hails from that school. Shri GNB’s birth centenary is being celebrated all over the world this year and it is noteworthy that LearnQuest was able to join the celebration through this concert.

The vocal recital was followed by Alam Khan’s sarod recital. Alam, the youngest son of late Ustad Ali Akbar Khan presented Alap, Jod, Jhala and composition in raga Yaman Kalyan in his legendary father’s signature style. He concluded with a famous composition in raga Mishra Kafi which had passages of several ragas infused in the presentation. He was accompanied ably on tabla by Vishal Nagar. Local celebrity Puran Dang recounted his association with the late Ali Akbar Khan Sahib and felicitated the artists.

The last concert of the memorable 2010 conference was by Shri P. Unnikrishnan accompanied on the violin by Shri Embar Kannan and on the mridangam by Shri Arjunkumar. Despite a very late start he gave a very authentic and impressive concert. The kriti Thiruvadi charanam in Kamboji was taken as the main item by the artist that evening. It was set to adi tala and composed by Papanasam Sivan who was known as the Tamil Thyagaraja because of his versality and his language skills was popularized by many well known artists from the South. Shri Unnikrishnan sang a very elaborate alapana of Kamboji with swara kalpana leading to a thunderous mridangam solo by Arjunkumar.

Apart from presentations of 15 soul uplifting concerts, distribution of a beautiful brochure magazine detailing artist profiles and containing informative articles on Indian Classical music, availability of Indian food throughout the day, good stage management , excellent hospitality arrangements for artists were some of the other attractive features of the 2010 Learnquest conference. Conference chairman Prem Nagar, planning and executive committee members as well as volunteers deserve the credit for 5th successful year in bringing more than 50 high profile artists from India and U.S.  

A California based music lover requested dates of the next year's conference during the proceedings of the 2010 conference so he may block time 12 months in advance. This proves that music lovers from New England area as well as from all over the U.S look forward to the annual Learnquest conference with great anticipation and joy. Heartiest Congratulations once again to LearnQuest Academy of music.

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1.Well written review May 19, 2010JS 

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