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Saturday, April 26, 2014

Ilaiyaraaja Live in Concert - 08

Ilaiyaraaja Live in Concert - 07

Having served us a taste of his instrumentation and orchestration Ilaiyaraaja turned to a cappella; and the most obvious choice in this genre Naan Porandhu Vandhadhu Raaja Vamsaththilae from Maya Bazaar was performed. If not for social network and internet, I wouldn’t have heard many of Ilaiyaraaja’s compositions, but I am convinced that if not for social network and internet, even Ilaiyaraaja wouldn’t have picked a song like Naan Porandhu Vandhadhu for any of his concerts. The song is being sung by singers even in singing reality shows (which has now become the true measure of the popularity or worthiness of a song) on TV.

I wasn’t really blown away by the execution of the song in Ilaiyaraaja’s Canada concert where they stretched the song by 35 seconds, the tempo dropped in the middle, we could see Ilaiyaraaja urging the choir to increase the tempo, singers in the group were looking at each other before proceeding to the next section of the song — all signs of lack of preparation. However, the quality of the composition is such, even a flawed performance that delivers 80% of the original blows your mind when you listen to it performed live. But that day, I wasn’t going to settle for anything lesser than the effect of the original.

These compositions are like our national Anthem, if it is set to run for 56 seconds, then 56 seconds it is and it should be, not a nano second more or less. There was a huge choir section in the stage, with singer spread across the horizon of the curved stage. I was astounded by how the singers were placed on the stage. Male voices are always in the background accompanying the female singers standing in the front singing the lead melody throughout, but instead of placing all the male singers together in one corner of the stage, they were distributed on both sides, the result was live naturally balanced stereophonic sound, and if I remember correctly, they even tried to pan a layer or two just through voices in the male choir group.

Though Naan Porandhu Vandhadhu song is referred to as an a cappella, it isn’t one like the Namachivaaya Vaazhgha section in Polla Vinayaen (from Ilaiyaraaja’s Thiruvasakam in Symphony) where the music is different strands of the choir group singing the same melody in different octaves and starting the melody with a lead or lag to the main vocals. Neither is this an a cappella with melodies cascaded and overlapped as counterpoints. There are parts within the song where some or all of these techniques are used but the song isn’t entirely that. It is a conventional song for the most part with a main melody, but with backing vocals imitating the instrumental accompaniment; you have strings, shakers, tabla, drums, even bass guitar parts performed by voices instead of actual instruments playing those parts, so it is just right that immediately after completing a cappella version of the song, to everyone’s surprise, an instrumental version of the song was played. Ilaiyaraaja demonstrated how he himself did an Alaa Wardi version of his own song decades ago.

Of course, the theatrics and drama of voices laughing melodically is the stuff of musicals and purely meant for the voices and they were repeated as it is in the instrumental version too. The song started with strings bowing the din-digi-din-digi-digi-digi to thunderous applause, and no one explained or spoke in between, what they are trying to do by performing the instrumental version of the song. However, only after listening to the instrumental version, it struck me how carefully every single junk word sung by the choir has been chosen to sonically and musically gel seamlessly within and with the main melody. You cannot swap a bimbak in place of jin-chigu-chigu in this song.

Naan Porandhu Vandhadhu - Maaya Bazaar

Ilaiyaraaja Live in Concert - 09

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Ilaiyaraaja Live in Concert - 07

Ilaiyaraaja Live in Concert - 06

Violin Concerto from Raaja Paarvai is a prelude to How To Name It that was going to release five years later. The visual choreography of this piece is one of the rarest of miraculous instances in Tamil Cinema where the orchestra performing on screen is at least shown (they seem to play the precise notes too to my eyes) playing same instruments as the one being heard in the musical piece playing in the background. This is a concert piece in the movie too, a shot of a newspaper advertisement of the concert in the movie shows the concert described as “Grand Music Night — East Meets West”. The template of the piece and the orchestration — classical Indian violin prelude, a substantial section with other instruments in the orchestra repeating the melody played by lead violin, the sudden switch to western guitars and pop beats, and all of these orchestral ideas moving seamlessly from one section to another are techniques we would hear used in best way possible in Ilaiyaraaja’s instrumental albums “How To Name It” and “Nothing but Wind”.

V.Narashiman seated in the centre stage — just for this piece, started playing the violin, with spot light only on him, and the whole stage was dark, and slowly like it happened for the Punnagai Mannan theme, the lighting sequence was arranged perfectly as the spot light on each instrument turned on as and when it enters the piece and whole stage was lit on and was brightest when the piece hits the bang — the bang that was there to sync with heroine’s surprise in seeing Kamal playing the violin.

The screen on either sides of the stage switched to camera’s exactly the way the visuals in the film was edited focusing on the instrument that ought to be highlighted at any given moment in the piece. It was perfect. They even rapidly cut between Violin and Tabla Tarang player — one on each screen. I guess that is how it will look in the final edu of the concert movie.

When the chorus started clapping in sync with the rhythm of the piece — there is section in the piece with clap sound which is for the audience in the movie clapping in rhythm — some in the audience in the concert hall hesitantly started to clap, conductor quickly turned around and waved his baton signalling that the audience too are a part of the orchestra now, and the whole auditorium clapped perfectly in sync — we were part of the orchestra and precisely when clapping had to stop, every one in the auditorium stopped without any signal from the conductor. Precisely when to stop clapping in rhythm in a particular piece of music that even a non-musical layman in the audience could intuitively know - How did it happen? How does one write music like that? Or was it mere coincidence? Or was the shift in the piece too drastic and apparent.

Listening to V.Narashiman effortlessly play the piece, I sighed for how the How To Name it concert would have been if he were the one who performed instead of L.Subramaniam’s son. And when was the last time we saw a real Tanpura being played in a live concert? That was a sight and the initial solo violin with just the tanpura was a divine experience. Tanpura was properly heard, big thanks to people who were mixing the performance live.

At the end, after a brief pause, even before the audience could stop clapping, V.Narashiman remained seated in the centre stage; Accompanied by Hindustani Taal on Tabla, he started playing another similar How-T-Name-It like piece from Idhu Namma Bhoomi. These pieces are a real test for a violinist I guess. A page from study for Violin material that Ilaiyaraaja had wished to write. The momentum of the piece peaks towards the end and when it turns utterly breathless, the last note of the piece shouldn’t be gently bowed but harshly plucked and V.Narashiman did that on beat with utmost precision. Maybe it isn’t so difficult a thing to play for a violinist but the ending note was quite impactful.

The trick of composing a piece that serves two purposes at the same time, you need to project the virtuosity of the instrumentalist on screen and at the same time the music also covers the emotions of the people around, those who are watching him play - Khusboo in this case, Madhavi in Raaja Paarvai, their surprise, their fear, the whole gamut of emotions they go through while listening to the music, everything little changeover is expressed precisely in the music and yet it is a perfect live concert piece that one could listen to enjoy without the aid of any visuals.

Raaja Paarvai - Violin Concerto

Idhu Namma Bhoomi

Ilaiyaraaja Live in Concert - 08