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Saturday, January 28, 2012

Classic Incantations Concert Review

Though I already got passes for the Bangalore leg of Classic Incantations Concert that will happen on January 29th, I wanted to watch the concert in Chennai on January 26th because I heard that the acoustics in Sri Mutha Venkata Subbarao Concert Hall is the best in Chennai. And it indeed was. I live in Bangalore. Whenever I attend a concert in Chennai, I start from Bangalore only on the day of the concert and reach Chennai in the evening just minutes before the concert. Last Month, when I travelled from Bangalore to Chennai for Endrendrum Ilaiyaraaja concert, I realized that the Six hours long Bus journey on the day of the concert drains all my energy and spirit, and I couldn’t enjoy the concert to the fullest. This time I didn’t want to repeat the same mistake for A.R.Rahman’s Classic Incantations Concert. I reached Chennai at 6:00 AM and took a room in Harrisons Hotel right behind the Concert Hall. I still didn’t have a pass for the Concert, though I was quite sure that I would get one, and I did get one. I had four hours of sound sleep in the afternoon before the concert, and when I woke up I was full of energy and excited to go the concert. (But, I needn’t have worried so much. Even if I were exhausted, few seconds into the first piece, my mind would have regained all the spirit and energy needed to absorb the performance.) I reached the venue at 5:00 PM. To my surprise, many of the followers of the background score blog recognized me, while I was waiting outside the venue, and it was great to see the real faces behind all those retweets, likes and comments in my blog.

And it began. As it was happening on the Republic day, the Concert started with Babelsberg Orchestra performing Indian National Anthem (the version that A.R.Rahman orchestrated for the film Bose: The Forgotten Hero and was also included in the film’s soundtrack CD), followed by German National Anthem. The moment I heard the sound of the orchestra, I realized that I made the right decision by coming all the way to Chennai to watch the concert in Venkata Subbarao Hall. The acoustic in the hall was perfect. I could hear every little detail in the orchestration; the tickled triangles, the titillated bells, tenderly disturbed hanging vibraphone tubes, the heavenly Harp glissandos, pristine Piano keys and softest hymns of the KM choir – every little sound was crisp, clear and were affecting my sensory cells.

Warriors of Heaven and Earth Suite was the opening piece of the Concert and it couldn’t have started any better, for the piece, in the very beginning of the concert demonstrated the whole power of the orchestra; rolling snares, pounding Timpanis, Clashing cymbals, roaring Brass, full throttled Choir, breezy wood winds, soul stirring cello solo, sublime string section - every section of the Orchestra had something significant to do in this Suite. And it also demonstrated how wholesome a composer and an orchestrator A.R.Rahman is. The Suite introduced the exquisitely haunting main theme (track The Golden Era in the CD), which demonstrated A.R.Rahman’s gift for melody and the melody was expanded to the instruments in every nook and corner of the Orchestra. The suite shifted to the incidental piece - Desert storm, in which the music takes unexpected twists and turns as dictated by the visuals in the film; a perfect display of the quality that a film score composer must have, and at the end, the suite switched to Horses to boast A.R.Rahman’s ability to write bombastic warfare music. And, bombastic it indeed was and how! When the full throttled orchestra broke out to play Horses I had my first of many Goosebumps that I was going to experience through the concert.

Warriors of Heaven and Earth is a score that A.R.Rahman actually wrote for a symphonic orchestra, but the following Lagaan Suite proved that even when not writing for symphony orchestra, Rahman wrote orchestral pieces to symphonic perfection. Not a note was played that was not in the Original recording in Lagaan Suite.

Mangal Pandey Suite was as tight as I wanted it to be with choicest of cues from the film put together in precisely an order that would blow every listener’s mind. It started with the brassy version of the Rising theme (that plays in the Fire torch scene in the film) and slide down to the mellower version of the theme on woodwinds and while we were still lingering in the silence as if it were going to last forever, there burst out suddenly with a bang the main Mangal Pandey theme wherein the orchestra hit the highest decibel it ever hit in the entire evening. My heart missed a beat in that moment. The Suite ended with End Credits cue from the film, in which one could clearly see the orchestra building up to the scintillating crescendo, which works all the more wonderfully in the moment for which it is used in the film – when Mangal Pandey stands alone in fight against an entire British regiment. If you knew the context of these pieces in relation to the film, you would enjoy the performance even more.

By the end of the first three pieces - Warriors of Heaven and Earth, Lagaan and Mangal Pandey, anyone who haven’t seen the films and doesn’t know the purpose of the music, is definitely bound to come to a conclusion that all orchestral pieces of A.R.Rahman sound similar and might feel that the concert is already turning monotonous. That is why it is a brilliant idea to have Passage Suite as the next piece, which is far removed from the bangs, drum rolls and bombastic brass sounds of the first three period film pieces. Passage exhibited the tender tones of the orchestra and what it takes for a Soprano to raise and soar over a 100-piece orchestra. Kavita Baliga, the soprano gave an exquisite rendition of Aria from Passage, with her voice rendering a wide array of emotions through crests and troughs, straight notes and vibratos in A.R.Rahman’s invigorating melody. Waltz, the end credits music from the film Passage followed, but surprisingly, with Kavita Baliga singing some Latin verses along with the orchestra which weren’t present in the original. Waltz is an all out western classical composition from A.R.Rahman with not a note of Indianness in it.

Finally, the Orchestra hit home when they played the music from A.R.Rahman’s debut film Roja - Cry of a Rose. This is the piece when the audience truly came alive with thunderous applause at the end. The piece started with Tamizha Tamizha song and the crescendo of the song, which was recorded entirely using synthesizers sounded perfectly in place when played by the live Orchestra. But, I wonder why the KM Choir didn’t join in with the Orchestra for the crescendo. It would have been magical, if they had. Then, flautist Navin Iyer took over to play the ever haunting tune of Kaadhal Rojaavae, while the Babelsberg played a quiet supporting role in the piece. An old man sitting next to me was moved to tears and said, “yengirundhu ippidi oru melody pudichchaaro ivaru? (From where did he get such a melody?)”.

For the Robot Suite, the visuals from the film were played on the screen when the Orchestra performed the grand choir version of “Arima Arima”. However, in Chennai, A.R.Rahman didn’t walk up to the stage to illustrate the significance of background score like he did in Mumbai concert. The end credits piece from the film, which is the orchestral version of Pudhiya Manidha song followed, and what followed is a brilliant arrangement (by Matt Dunkley, I assume) of the theme tune “Pudhiya Manidha bhoomikku Vaa”, where the tune meandered and wandered through every section of the orchestra. My favourite section of the piece is when the string section and woodwinds section engage in a chirpy tussle over the Synth bass motif (like how Vaseegaran is caught between Chitti and Sana in the film) from the original song.

With the serene Canyon (instrumental version of “If I Rise” song) theme and excerpts from Acid Darbari 127 Hours suite became the Concert’s quietest piece. It was an exceptionally moving performance by the Orchestra. The Orchestra was just crouching low during 127 Hours suite before plunging back in action in full force for the Lord of the Rings Suite. Lord of the Rings Suite is the only piece in the concert that I wasn’t much familiar with. The performances by Arun H.K, Kavita Baliga, K.M Choir and Babelsberg Orchestra were absolutely magical and transported me to a different world. It was the most colorful and vibrant of all the pieces performed in the concert and I instantly fell in love with the piece.

My only grouse about the concert was the absence of Naveen Kumar on flute. Navin Iyer did his best but he just couldn’t match with what Naveen Kumar did in original recording of Bombay theme and in the A.R.Rahman symphonic concerts that happened outside India. Navin Iyer’s improvisations didn’t fall in place and harmed the piece, but the strings section of Babelsberg orchestra was good enough. Bombay Theme performance in Chennai concert didn’t move me emotionally.

A.R.Rahman stands so tall in the international arena as the representative figure of Indian film music, and he stands on the shoulders of so many legendary Indian film music composers, which is why he rightfully paid tribute to some of the legends (R.K.Shekar, Vishwanathan-Ramamurthy, Ilaiyaraaja, S.D.Burman, Salil Chaudary, Madan Mohan, Lakshmikant-Pyarelal) and contemporaries (Jatin-Lalit, Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy) by making Babelsberg Film Orchestra play a compilation of some of the most popular songs by the great Indian film music composers. And when it came to A.R.Rahman, the orchestral version of Kannaalanae from Bombay was performed by the orchestra and the prelude chorus of the song when played by the string section sounded brilliant. Finally, the tribute piece ended with Babelsberg Orchestra performing the epic orchestral piece A.R.Rahman composed for Rajini Introduction scene in Muthu. No words can explain the experience of listening to “Oruvan Oruvan” prelude piece played live by a 100-piece symphony orchestra. It has to be felt to be believed. They couldn’t have chosen a better coda for the tribute piece. The most critical part of the piece is the last 3 bangs and the length of pause between each bang. If the pause between each of those 3 bangs were not correctly timed and maintained by the conductor, the impact of the piece would have been lost. Matt Dunkley timed it perfectly and made sure Orchestra followed his baton and maintained the pause just for the required length.

Elizabeth: The Golden Age suite began with the transcendental “Divinity” Theme; soon the KM choir joined the solo female vocal enhancing the immensity of the emotions in the piece further. When after a brief pause, a solo cello took over the Divinity theme, the theme revealed its utmost beauty. Then began the Battle theme; I was curious to listen to this piece, because there is a key Synth bass melody layer in the original recording of this piece and I was wondering what the piece would sound like without that layer. But, even without that layer, the piece managed to create an impact because of the incredible performance of KM Choir and the Orchestra.

Swades theme was not played. I was eagerly looking forward for this piece; I hope we would get to hear this piece at least on the Classic Incantations CD.

I was looking forward to hear Afghanistan theme in Bose: The Forgotten Hero Suite, for Middle-eastern music is a very important genre in A.R.Rahman’s repertoire. No composer in India uses music of Middle-east in their songs the way Rahman does. It would have added more colour and variety to the overall package. Instead, they included a War theme, again, from the film, with the obvious Jai Hind song and Netaji theme (the mesmerizing melody of the line “Tanha rahi apni” from Ekla Chalo song) in the Suite.

The cues that Rahman wrote for Prague episode in the film Meenaxi is beautifully strung together as a suite and played while the screen displayed a slide show of beautiful Indian woman. The film Meenaxi itself was M.F.Hussain’s ode to Tabu’s beauty. With the strings section simmering with passion, the violin solos singing songs of tenderness and woodwinds breezing ever so gently like a velvety feather afloat in the air, the piece was absolutely magical and ethereal.

Slumdog Millionaire Suite, as always began with Lathika’s theme that is quite different from the original version with orchestral flab added to the lean and tender romantic theme. The theme is orchestrated as if the theme is sailing on a sinusoidal wave with Lathika’s hymn chanted mild and mellow during the troughs, and orchestra majestically breaking out with a louder KM Choir amidst crashing cymbals during the crests. Towards the end of Lathika’s theme, A.R.Rahman on Piano and Asad Khan on Sitar jammed for a while before jumping into the piece and slowly Asad khan jammed his way into the main Escape theme from Slumdog Millionaire and the orchestra was on full throttle again, swelling to recreate the musical chaos of the Escape theme. The piece was filled with many soft filler sections in between so as to create a bigger impact when every time orchestra bursts out the Escape theme. Asad Khan soared over the 100-piece orchestra with his energetic and effortless playing of Sitar. The piece ended the concert on a high, or so the audience thought. But, there was one more piece, which I knew was coming.

The concert was brought to a breathtaking close with KM Choir and Babelsberg Orchestra performing the song Aayo Re Sakhi from Water. What a brilliant choice of song for such a symphonic concert! It is a perfect Indian melody for a western symphony orchestra to back. The song has an Indian classical tinge in its melody and A.R.Rahman has orchestrated the melody with abundant layers of strings and other instruments which could easily be transported onto a western symphony orchestra. The song has an infectious swing in the rhythm, an affecting effervescence and energy throughout. Voices of KM choir sang the melody with all its Indian classical intricacies intact, whereas Babelsberg Orchestra kept its western classical tradition up with every section of the orchestra engaging in perfect synergy to play supporting and contrapuntal phrases to the main melody.

Despite few glitches that I mentioned above, I was overwhelmed by the end of the concert. The Classic Incantations Concert on whole was breathtaking, astounding, magical and therapeutic.

It was an evening that I would not forget till the end of my time.

Thanks a Zillion to LAPP India, Germany and India 2011-2012 Infinite Opportunities, and every single person who was responsible for making this Concert possible. Thank to Ketaki from Germany-and-India for the invitation. And Thanks to the man himself, Maestro A.R.Rahman for his music, and for his relentless efforts to give his fans and music lovers a new experience in his every single Endeavour.

And I am going to watch the Concert again in Bangalore tomorrow. Can’t Wait!


tifosikrishna said...

Wow, a review that matches the grandeur of orchestra. Man, I didn't see you taking any notes, but am amazed at the level of detail in your review.

I think your auditory perception will be better than mine even when you turn deaf!!

Vijayan said...

Gr8 Review and btw did you took any video or photo? If so please upload that also. Thank you for your wonderful detailed review.

Bharath V said...

Excellent review and thanks for the recordings. I do wish they release the scores of orchestrated versions.

Unknown said...

Good review Suresh. The concert was great and I loved the sound of the orchestra. However I felt there could have been some vocal pieces too which has a good dose of orchestral music. For example:

My Wish Comes True from Kisna
This one has good strings section as well as chorus, and an indian melody on the bamboo flute as well.

The Journey Home from Bombay Dreams
Similar to the above, it is a western oriented song, with an indian flavor too.

Sunil Malhotra said...

Dear Suresh Ji,

Thanks a lot for sharing your experience along with the respective audio links. I highly appreciate your effort.

Even though I thoroughly enjoyed all suites, it was the initial plucks of the “Warriors of Heaven and Earth” suite that completely moved me to the extreme end of an emotional spectrum. Wow, what an introduction? If the beginning is this superb, then the whole experience is highly likely to dumbfound everyone. Other pieces that deserve a special mention are the “Passage” suite, which is very mystical – congratulations to Kavita and the rest of the KMMC choir and “Cry of a Rose” suite – I wonder why they chose to name the “Roja” suite this but after reading your description about the person beside you, I sort of come to a conclusion, an obvious one being Madhoo's character longing for Arvind Swamy in the film but in addition I like to add that Rahman Ji views his dear fans as a rose (a symbol of friendship and love) and the flute version of “Kadhal Rojave” has certainly swept us to tears. Rahman Ji once said, when composing an emotional track you have to acquire the correct feeling (sounds clich├ęd) but I wouldn’t be surprised if he himself cried whilst composing this number. You can probably guess my taste in music favours soft instrumentals and choral music in the long term.

From the “Tribute” suite, without a doubt, “Malarnthum Malaratha” and “Senthoora Poove” equally soar above the rest. It’s almost as if Rahman Ji went through my mind and knew I wanted to be gifted with these evergreen presents. Hearing these in WCM is really a dream come as through “Malarnthum Malaratha” we can heard Raga Abheri in an orchestral fashion, furthermore, the three most heard and favourite tracks for me by Raaja Saab are “Chinna Kannan Azhaikkiran”, “Senthoora Poove” and “Nee Partha” and for me to hear “Senthoora Poove” in WCM is seriously an answered wish. I’m really interested in the song by Rahman Ji’s father R.K. Shekhar, I would really like to hear the original.

I sit here writing this, trying to contain myself as I’m emotionally lost in all these ques. I would so love to be in India visiting one of these spectacular events right now but thanks to you and others who have shared reviews, videos, audios, images etc. I feel I have lived 50% of this experience. This is a great treat for us Rahman Ji devotees who couldn’t attend in person.

I was surprised in a pleasant way when “Aayo Re Sakhi” from “Water” was chosen to be played at the end but I recall Rahman Ji once saying he has worked the hardest for “Water” than any other album of his. As far as I remember, I’ve heard him he raving about three albums in particular: “Roja”, this was when he was asked what’s his favourite piece of work? “Kadhalar Dhinam, an album he rates 10/10. And recently he has been all praise for “Rockstar”. “Aayo Re Sakhi” is certainly an underdog composition that’s unpredictably arrived in the climax of the event. Rahman Ji might of wanted to use this track as an ode to God.

I said this to another member who shared his experience that, I can only dream of you felt in the actual auditorium.

If this doesn’t define him as the “Mozart of Madras” nothing will!

Thank you,

Sunil Malhotra

varadharajan said...

Hi suresh bro,
First of all it was nice meeting you, and congratulation for rahman sir following your blog...
The Concert was awesome spellbounding but not free from little disappointments...
Bombay theme lost some sharp bends in flute but orchestra managed it very well,
And In meenaxi it would ve been great if they had gone for bombastic title credits rather than sitting sweetly on melodies, though i liked it i felt that opening credits would ve been even better,
In bose it would ve been great if they had played hum dilli dilli jayyenge which has every bit of orchestra wonders in it...
And the final disappoitments where missing Swades Theme And LoBS Suite..
Now on the positives, I never expected that i would like opera style of music and was thinking when the passage and LOTR would pass, but after they started i prayed god, that this should never end watta performance it was especially the vocals of Kavita and arun were beyond the world..
The Warriors of Heaven and earth was at its best... its the great punch for all those believe Rahman is weak in scores and orchestration, especially wen the theme shifted from dacoit duel to horses , i got goosebumps all over..
Lagaan theme was the pitch perfect, perfect example of how rahman has developed KMMC has his life and bread, the choir overtook the performance of even babelsberg..
Next came the best part of the concert, The Rising Suite wow wow wow wow and wow especially twds the end moments when orchestra reached its pinnacle i was at edge of my feet...
next is where our man started his journey, "The cry of Rose" if there is any soul which didnt cry on hearing this i think there can be none... Stupendous and spellbounding...
The Robot Suite is the one which everyone expected it to be nice and it was excellent, The Choirs performance of Arima Arima Chant was top notch, The surprise element is wen everyone expected them to perform only the end credits the orchestra covered the entire film score as a suite..Jaw breaking one..
127 hours suite,if ure planning for a date with your love in a candle light place, canyon is the best piece which u can opt to play, then the orchestra shifted to Acid Darbari and left everyone spellbound...
Tribute to Indian Composers , Any other prson wouldnt have done this first, he did it and it with perfection, Navin Iyer was excellent in pehla naasha,but sad that they stopped sendhoora poove in prelude and didnt enter melody on a whple i say take a bow man u made us proud...
Elizabeth the Golden age was
the excellent example of underplay and they did it exceedingly well once again the choir chemistry with the orchestra was spellbounding...
Slumdog Millionaire suite got the sitting crowd to a standing ovation especially when azad plucked the strings and when the boss piano piece ended it was out of the world... one of the best part of the concert....
Can AAyo re sakhi be done like this also was my reaction when i heard it..its very difficult to sing the charanam of the song as a choir which has sharp bends, but the guys did it with aplomb..
On the whole i felt the concert travelled throughout his film career and every minute of three hours is a worth... I just wanted to shout thalaivaa u r great... excellency excellent...

P.S. Suresh Kumar said...

Krishna - Hahaha.. Thank You :-)

Vijayan - No. I didn't take any picture or Video.

Bharath - Thank you. Yes, Classic Incantations CD will be released soon.

Ramesh - Yes. I too wished the same. Both "my wish comes true" and "Journey home" are my favourites and they songs would sound other worldly if KM choir and Orchestra had performed them.

Sunil - I can sense your emotions by reading your comment. There will also be TV show showing excerpts from the concert. They recorded the entire Delhi concert for that.

Varadharajan - Chennai Mozhila sollanumna Concert - Naasththi... you have written a mini review here.. Glad to know that you enjoyed the concert

Unknown said...

Great review as usual, Congratulations on the Maestro following your blog!, now am proud of myself for following your blog :)

Rajeev Vijayakumar said...

Thank you for the extra ordinary work!!!

I was also one of the luckiest soul to have been there at the concert. I happened to play your recording of Kadhal Rojave for my parents and they got goose bumps :)

karthyk krishnan said...

Absolutely a wonderful review.. Many of the places were like.. this is what exactly i felt when i was not alone thinking that way... one thing which stands out in the review as well as the concert was Navin's flute in Bombay theme music.. He just could not match the original and rightly picked up by you in the review..

The one thing which was missing in the orchestra from the original programme was Theme music of Swades.. and this is what Matt Dunkley told me when i asked him if it was missed on choice.. " we were supposed to play Swades theme but the solo accordion player forgot the key to his accordion case and couldn't open it in time!" .. It was sheer bad luck for us not to listen on that... Do follow up with the review with what you felt in bangalore..if you happened to visit..

P.S. Suresh Kumar said...

Karthyk Krishnan - That is quite a lame reason for not playing Swades theme. It wasn't played in Bangalore concert as well.

But, nothing much to add. Bangalore concert was pretty much the same. I was not expecting much as it was going to happen in Open auditorium, but I was really surprised by the sound quality they achieved. It was perfect.

Fido!! said...

whoever it was who kept saying "aaha" and "uch uch uch uch" during the cry of rose!!!Darn u!! :D neways, thanks for the beautiful review along with the clips... bliss for us who couldnt watch the concert live.. for some reason, i thought he played the beginning portion of cry of rose a tad bit quicker than the original.

My fav part was the tribute. That shows what the man is made of. Gotta learn to show love and respect from the legend ARR!

film said...

Thank you very much for sharing your experience and the audio links. I must say it is an interesting read.

Nisar Ahmed said...

Awesome review. Zillion thanks for the audio links Suresh. Waiiiiiiiiiiiting for the CD to be released and will definitely watch-out for the telecast in case if it happens. Best part to me was the tribute and selection of the tributes...And I am still listening.Thanks ARR

Aakarsh said...

Good write up Suresh! I couldnt attend due to some personal reasons, but i originally wanted to.

enjoyed reading your thoughts on the concert and pleased to know about Matt's meeting with you and ARR following your blog. Continue your good work! compliments!

And yes, I'm waiting for the Incantations cd!

Anonymous said...

You effing bastard... with 20 years of strong training in classical music and being hand-picked by A.R Rahman himself for this concert and lauded highly by him during the rehearsals, Navin Iyer did a much better job than Naveen Kumar, who has fought with ARR! Just in order to have positive and negative points in your review, you need not criticize a trained professional musician like this. Grow up!

Shopping India said...

ohhh mann !!! very detail info n nice presentation, thanx a lot for spending time to gather all this.

avnish gautam said...

Amazing entertainment post, Thanks for sharing this beautiful post with us.

Unknown said...

THANKS A MILLION for the recordings!!!

Deepak said...

Puleez Gimme a break!! You arm chair critics sit and write whatever you feel like.. Navin Iyer is a legend in the making.. He aint no silent contributor or u dont have any authority to scale or measure him with your false sense of righteousness.. Please grow up!
Your followers may recognise u anywhere and you are full of urself!

P.S. Suresh Kumar said...

Deepak - I have all the authority to say what I feel. Navin Iyer could very well be a legend in the making, but can't he ever make a mistake? Whether I am full of myself is besides the point. The truth is that I wasn't emotionally moved by the performance. As you said, "Please grow up!". And try to understand the difference between the Criticism of a performance and that of a performer.

Unknown said...

Deepak, I agree with Suresh on this. Even I was present there live. I loved Navin Iyer's performance in the Nothing but Wind concert. It was very much like the original which was played by Hari Prasad Chaurasia. But in this concert, I definitely felt that the Bombay theme was not performed well. Believe he was having his engagement the next day. Probably insufficient practice?