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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!

Friday, January 27, 2012

In Conversation with Matt Dunkley

I got an opportunity to meet Conductor Mr.Matt Dunkley minutes before the beginning of A.R.Rahman's Classic Incantations Concert that happened in Chennai. Matt Dunkley remembered me, this blog, and the interview I did with him in 2010 through e-mail. I didn't really prepare much this time, because, honestly, I didn't believe that I would get to talk to him, though I was told that I would. It was more of a freewheeling chat session where Matt Dunkley spoke about India, reception of Indian audience, about why they couldn't really pull if off in previous such concerts (CBSO, London Philharmonic and Hollywood Bowl), Classic Incantations CD and about working with KM choir. Listen In Conversation with Matt Dunkley Also This!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

A.R.Rahman follows backgroundscore.com

I was talking to the Organizers (who helped me get a pass for the concert) of Classic Incantations Concert in Chennai just before the concert and they said "A.R.Rahman mentioned you in Bombay". You should have seen my face at that moment; I was smiling ear to ear.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Classic Incantations - A.R.Rahman finally gets it Right

Last year, I wrote a piece on what went wrong in A.R.Rahman’s Hollywood Bowl concert (with L.A Philharmonic Orchestra) that happened in July, 2011. I listed down the reasons for the concert failing to engage the audience. Now, when I watch the videos of A.R.Rahman’s recent Classic Incantations concert, it seems my wishes were heard, my post was read (though highly unlikely); each and every glitch that I mentioned about Hollywood Bowl concert has been avoided in Classic Incantations concert.
"I do not like listening to orchestral concerts in the open-air auditorium, no matter how powerful a sound system you provide. The nuances in orchestral pieces are best experienced in a closed auditorium. And A.R.Rahman is no John Williams. Rahman’s orchestral pieces mostly are not chaotic, unpredictable, and bombastic and intricately layered enough to engage me in a live concert in an open auditorium. Rahman’s is mellifluous, haunting tunes that are just expanded on an orchestra with different sections playing supporting parts. Such pieces require the walls of a closed auditorium to give the audience an immersive experience. Compare the experience of listening to the performance of "Mausam and Escape" in Nobel Peace Prize concert with that of in Hollywood Bowl. I am glad to read that Rahman is planning for one such concert in India. I hope that when it happens, it happens in a closed auditorium. There may not be closed auditoriums in India that could pack in 20,000 people, which is the minimum number of attendees of any given Rahman concert. But, filling the hearts of a given number of people with joy and satisfaction is much better than merely filling a given auditorium space with more people most of whom would leave with a sense of disappointment."
In all the five cities, the concert happens in a closed auditorium.
"The idea of playing visuals from the films in that giant screen has gone terribly wrong. I understand the purpose, non-Indian audiences and all that. But, this is ridiculous. The screen shows frantic action sequences from Endhiran, when the orchestra is performing a calm and subdued version of “Pudhiya Manidha”. It is such a distracting contrast. It totally turns off one’s interest in the music piece. And when you have Rajini on screen doing all those stunts, I wonder if anyone would paid any attention to the orchestral music. The audience cheered in the middle of Lagaan theme because the peak in the crescendo was perfectly synced with the visual of Aamir hitting that epic winning shot. This is the amount of satisfaction that a perfectly synchronized music and visuals can give the audience, but it looks like that did not happen in any of the pieces performed except Lagaan."
No visuals from the films are played when the music is performed, only exception being the video clip of Robot, but that is played to make the audience understand the significance of the background score in a film. The video is played once without music, and again with the music to demonstrate the enhanced impact a film has on the viewer when experienced with the background music.
"“Arima Arima” chant by Ragapella group was totally out of sync with the orchestra. Also, the number of singers singing “Arima Arima” is less. It totally lacked the grandeur and was not effective. In an interview, Rahman told that he recorded Arima choir parts with 20 voices and overdubbed it multiple times to make it sound like a grand choir. At least 50 singers should have been there on the stage singing that part for that piece to be effective enough."
KM Choir that performs along with Babelsberg film Orchestra includes 16 Male voices and 16 female voices.
"I am not sure if the suites compiled from the films’ cues were tight enough. There were too many middling loose moments in the middle of the piece. The transition from one cue to another in a suite is particularly crucial. It should be neither abrupt nor take too long. Seamless is the word. In Robot Suite, the middle section lingered far too long on ‘Pudhiya Manidha’ melody. There are so many other bombastic pieces in Robot. The whole suite includes only film’s End Credits music and few variations of Arima song. Mangal Pandey Suite also had the same problem."
In Robot Suite, they perform only “Arima Arima” grand choir version from the climax of the film. I don’t know about other film score suites, though.
"However, “Naan Varuvaenae” is one of those few Rahman songs to which we could put a symphony behind. I would love to listen to it in better quality. But, in this concert, Rahman’s singing of “Naan Varuvaenae” was quite tentative and lacked the soul of the original."
"Naan Varuvaenae" is not included in this concert. No singing by A.R.Rahman.
"I am not much in favour of putting a symphony orchestra behind Rahman’s songs. I could not recognize that the orchestra is playing “Tamizha Tamizha” melody, until the brass section took it over for the final crescendo of the song. “Cry of a Rose” is a Naveen show, symphony orchestra does not add much to the experience."
Whether Roja Suite got any better? – I will know when I watch the concert live this week. Can’t Wait! Surprises A.R.Rahman has finally included that bombastic Rajini Introduction music from Muthu and the Choir-Orchestral version of the exuberant Aayo Re from Water. Furthermore, an Audio CD with Babelsberg Orchestra’s performance of all the symphonic pieces will be released soon. What more an A.R.Rahman fan can ask for?

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Classic Incantations Quiz

While Babelsberg Orchestra from Germany (as part of Germany and India 2011 - 2012: Infinite Opportunities)is touring cities in India with their performance, here is a quiz to check how well you know A.R.Rahman's symphonic scores. Streaming below are 20 musical themes from film scores composed by A.R.Rahman. Set 1 and Set 2, each has one theme from same set of 10 films (there could be one or two exceptions, where there is only theme from the film either in Set 1 or Set 2) . Match the theme from the same films and name the films. Answer shall be in this format - Name of the film 1-A, Name of the film 2-B, Name of the film 3-C etc.,
Set 1Set 2
Theme 1 Theme A
Theme 2 Theme B
Theme 3 Theme C
Theme 4 Theme D
Theme 5 Theme E
Theme 6 Theme F
Theme 7 Theme G
Theme 8 Theme H
Theme 9 Theme I
Theme 10 Theme J

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Colors of Raaja

FINALLY, Agi Music releases a compilation of Ilaiyaraaja's background score pieces; quite a quirky collection of pieces on this one, from films Raaja Paarvai, Prema, Aarilirundhu Arubadhuvarai, Kodai Mazhai, Japanil Kalyaana Raaman, Tik Tik Tik, Aur Ek Prem Kahani, Selvi, Aboorva Sahotharargal, Kaakki Chattai, My Dear Kuttichaaththan, Punnagai Mannan, Sathileelavathi and Johnny. I don't know if it is out on CD format as well.
You can listen to the samples of the tracks here Ilaiyaraaja | Colours of Raaja | CD Baby