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.Prelude
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.
Punnagai Mannan Love Theme