Friday, February 28, 2014

Ilaiyaraaja Live in Concert - 02



Ilaiyaraaja Live in Concert - 01


A spotlight grew brighter in the centre of the stage; Ilaiyaraaja in his white shirt and dhoti was playing his Harmonium and he was playing the main melody of the Punnagai Mannan Love Theme. The most popular of all the instrumental pieces of Ilaiyaraaja was stripped to its bare bones and performed for us just the way it was probably born.

I thought the orchestra would take over and play the entire Punnagai Mannan Theme, they eventually did, but before that, there was another pleasant surprise. I heard someone banging on a chord on a Grand Piano, and the spotlight on the Piano side of the Stage turned on to reveal Anil Srinivasan the Pianist, who was playing what I call the Prelude to Punnagai Mannan Love Theme. It is a very short piece, but I always loved it just as much as the main love theme. In the movie when this piece plays, Kamal is alone in a dark hall. There is a Grand Piano in the room. The breeze outside makes the hall’s open door to slam rhythmically and Kamal bangs the piano and hits a chord in sync with the slam of the door, and thus begins the Prelude. I always wondered if those deep bass chords were meant for ever brooding Kamal, and the main melody set in a higher register, is for the chirpy, light and spright Revathi. May be, not. It plays for the mood of contemplation, the main melody on treble clef of the sheet circling around that one thought in Kamal’s mind - To fall or not to fall, in Love, again. But then the music also beautifully suits the dreamy romantic ballet Kamal performs with Revathi in his mind.

I love the feel of a chord banged on a Piano reverberating in a Concert Hall. The longer it lingers in the air, the farther you feel transported out of the real world. The sound of the higher keys of a solo Piano in the vast space of the concert hall, sounded incredibly romantic and intimate. I was expecting the piece to end properly, but it ended exactly like it ends in the movie - Abruptly. When Kamal stops playing suddenly, because he doesn’t want to take the thought any further, he pulls the lid to slam on the surface of the rim of the Grand Piano. Of course, the Pianist here didn’t do that, but the bang provided a perfect jump start to the following piece, and the bang became the first thud of Punnagai Mannan Main Theme from where begins the high tempo hi-hat beat of one of the most beloved movie themes in Tamil Cinema.

Unlike the original, where the clap sound was programmed into the rhythm pattern or so I guess, the musicians in the orchestra were clapping on beat. Few micro seconds before the main melody begins, the spotlight on the man on the Keyboard was turned on. The stage was still not fully lit; we could see Anil, Sivamani, Ilaiyaraaja and now A.R.Rahman - the original musician who played and programmed the piece was there on stage playing the main melody on keys. When the melody took off, I was completely out of the worries and hurries of the real world, I was completely transported in a space where there is only one thing - Ilaiyaraaja’s music.

Most of the synth layers that were programmed into the original were performed with acoustic instruments in the performance, hence it sounded a little different, a little imperfect and that made it sound all the more beautiful. The short, snappy and swirly Oboe (or is it clarinet) that ends with a high tick on the bell is one of my favourite orchestral ideas in the piece, and that part sounded so crisp live. Though there was a whole symphony orchestra on stage, I am glad that short Oboe piece was still played on Keyboard as it is in the original which helped retain a little sonic integrity of the original in the performance. The thump of the drums were quite effective and the hit on the cymbals resonated quite longer than it was allowed to in the original.

With a huge cymbal sound the piece hit that sweet pause and the entire auditorium was on the edge of the seat waiting for the orchestra to set the main melody free of its cage. Precisely when the string section began to soar and reprise the main theme, the whole stage was lit up and for the first time we were able to see the entire orchestra. The whole Hungarian symphony orchestra, Indian and Western choir, along with Ilaiyaraaja’s own Indian ensemble troupe was there. It was an amazing sight; more than 100 musicians were on that stage. When the strings soared and all the lights were turned on, I had one of the hundreds of goosebumps I was going to have that evening. The live sound mixing was perfect, sound quality was unbelievable, it was like listening to the performance on CD. Even the smallest of sounds were audible in utmost clarity. As this was the premiere of the concert, and it was being filmed and recorded for Audio CD, DVD and Blu-ray release, and I guess a lot of effort has gone into making everything look and sound perfect. When the piece ended, there was a thunderous applause that lasted for a minute. Ilaiyaraaja stood there smiling and accepting the appreciation and after a point he had to show his hands to stop fans from clapping and whistling. He signalled indicating there is so much more to come and turned towards the Orchestra and asked the Hungarian Conductor to start the next piece.

Prelude



Punnagai Mannan Love Theme



Ilaiyaraaja Live in Concert - 03


Thursday, February 27, 2014

Ilaiyaraaja Live in Concert - 01



The Concert I had been waiting for all my life was about to begin in few hours. As always, I started to the Concert City a day earlier, for I need to idle well before any music concert. I want to keep my mind void and vacuum, so that when I open it during the concert, it could absorb every little ounce of the elixir that Ilaiyaraaja’s music was going to offer that evening. I wanted each and every molecule disturbed in the air by the music being performed in the Concert Hall to pierce through my body, mind and soul. I wanted to experience music in its entirety to the fullest extent humanly possible.

In the hotel, after an hour in gym and light brunch, played some mild western classical music on laptop speakers — not the bombastic presto and allegro movements of Symphonies but a playlist with calm and soothing string quartets and flute sonatas. I didn’t bother to listen intently; when there is something worthy of listening, it comes knocking my ear drums and wake my brain nerves to pay attention. I like listening to music in half sleep. You are really in a world where there is only music. But, within few minutes into the first piece, I slept. There was no there. There was no snaking around the bed in half sleep. I wasn’t lingering in in-between worlds. It was a deep and sound sleep, the one I badly need before a music concert; especially when the concert is of Instrumental Music. I have dozed off in almost all western classical symphony concerts that I have been to so far. Of course, this was not going to be one of those classical concerts. Ilaiyaraaja’s instrumental pieces are the tightest one could possibly ever hear, one that implodes with energy even at its lowest tempo, but, I needed the rest because I just don’t trust me. With Ilaiyaraaja’s music, where you move from one highlight to another, where lingering and meandering has no meaning, and with so much drama happening within each piece of music, you have no choice but to surrender to the music, you cannot process any thought other than the music being performed, that is if you are there for music.

I woke up at 4:00 PM and through my room’s window I could see a huge crowd that had already gathered outside the Concert Hall. I always book a Hotel very close to the Concert venue, so that I can avoid the fatigue of travel and waiting in the queue. Took a shower and put my best dress on, and reached the Concert Hall in an hour. It was like a carnival at the corridor just outside the main Concert Hall. Fans from different parts of the world had come to witness this once-in-a-lifetime event. I could see variety of T-Shirts with Ilaiyaraaja’s picture on it with hash tag lines like “#Raajada”, ‘WhyRaajaisGod”, “WhyGodisRaaja”, “Mottai Boss”, “Endrendrum Raaja”, and some T-Shirts in Malayalam and Telugu too.

There was also a stall where they were selling Concert Merchandise. Everything was selling well, what with nearly 10,000+ people gathering to witness the event. Everyone was seriously discussing about Raaja’s music, some of them were singing in groups, not the songs, but the themes from film scores. There was a stall that was already selling a “Making Of” DVD and Blu-ray of that of the concert. It was reasonably priced.

I was regularly following the updates that had interesting Making-of Videos with lot of inside information in the official website of the Concert for nearly six months, right from the day when the idea originated, to the final set decoration of the Stage on the concert day, there were rehearsal videos, videos of singers and musicians talking about Ilaiyaraaja’s background scores, film makers, producers, movie celebrities talking about the concert. A small teaser trailer of the DVD was looping in a huge LCD in the stall. I picked one Blu-ray, and with Making-of Blu-ray, they said I would be among the first bunch to get the Concert Blu-ray disk when it releases.

I met some of the Ilaiyaraaja fans with whom I have only communicated through social networking sites. There was a lot of press, some TV channels interviewing fans about how they feel about attending this concert. I too gave a sound bite. There was also a red carpet for VIPs from film music fraternity and some popular actors and directors who have worked with Ilaiyaraaja who were going to attend the show.

Suddenly there was huge noise in one corner, Ilaiyaraaja arrived at the Concert Hall, and he came in walking on the red carpet. He looked cool and calm, as if he was there to watch someone else’s show. He gave few sound bites, posed for photographs; some fans fell on his feet, despite the tight security. I just stood at a distance and was watching everything. The “Making of” documentary crew was very busy capturing all these varied things happening all at the same time. The doors opened and we were allowed into the concert hall. I had a refreshing Coffee while everyone was falling on each other near the door as if the seats were on first come first serve basis. Once the crowd became calmer and nicer, I stood in the line to enter the hall. I could already hear the sounds of instruments because orchestra was now on stage and they were tweaking and tuning their instruments. Each instrumentalist was playing or rather practising for one last time, different phrases from different pieces that was going to be performed that night. All of it together sounded quite cacophonous, but I could guess some of the pieces from those few bars, and so were some in the crowd entering with me.

The show was also being captured on a high definition film camera and with some high technology sound capturing machines. This is to later release the concert as a movie in Cinemas all over the world like P.Jayendra made Margazhi Raagam. So, the electronic devices were strictly not allowed inside the auditorium. There was a counter where we had to surrender all our devices. It was almost like going to a movie set or a recording studio. They are not going to release the concert movie soon, because the show is on a 10-City worldwide tour for next one year. But, the concert was premiering that night and was also being captured live for the movie release. I guess they might record in all places and string together the best bits from all the Cities and make it into a movie.

The whole concert Hall turned dark suddenly, and the murmurs of around 10000 people started to die down to few coughing sounds here and there and with the beginning of the final count down the audience turned absolutely silent — a clear sign of respect for the music and the composer. Curtains were drawn up, but still I couldn’t clearly see much on the stage. The stage looked like massive infinite space — a sort of a visual indicator of the time the music that was going to be performed there in few seconds would live. Stage was totally black and blank but for the tiny but sharp flashes of LED lights, flickering all over the stage like stars twinkling far away in a dark sky. There was a huge widescreen display at the top, and in there, gradually emerged the simplest and most appropriate title of the Concert - Ilaiyaraaja Live in Concert - with letters typed in some sort of a musical font in which each alphabet is drawn resembling one of the musical instruments or one of those various notations that we see on a sheet music.

The title appeared not all of a sudden, but gradually, and this transition of the title from a thin smoky font to the thick final shape was accompanied by the sound of the unlikeliest of the instruments I thought the show would begin with — the Harmonium, Ilaiyaraaja’s own Harmonium. There was no bombast or banging fanfare that I expected. Along with the title, a spotlight also grew brighter in the centre of the stage; Ilaiyaraaja in his white shirt and dhoti was playing and he was playing the main melody of the Punnagai Mannan Love Theme. The most popular of all the instrumental pieces of Ilaiyaraaja was stripped to its bare bones and performed for us just the way it was probably born. That was just one of the many surprises that was going to follow that evening. But I was also surprised that none in the audience cheered, whistled or made any noise. Ilaiyaraaja didn’t have to do what he did in one of his earlier concerts when audience started to applaud even before flautist Napoleon could lay Poove Sempoove quietly to bed with that serene flute piece that also opens the song. It is as important for us the audience to hear a piece of music in its entirety as it is for the instrumentalist to perform to honour the integrity of the composition, and to appreciate the musical symmetry the composer was after by beginning and closing the song with the same flute piece as if suggesting that all the breathtaking orchestral dance that happened in between was pointless.

Ilaiyaraaja Live in Concert - 02