For any young artist, an invitation to perform at Shanmukhananda auditorium in Sion is a sign that they’ve arrived. The iconic performing arts venue has hosted musical concerts by classical artists as legendary as vocalists MS Subbulakshmi, Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar and Bhimsen Joshi, and instrumentalists such as shehnai player Bismillah Khan and flautist Hariprasad Chaurasia. The venue has also seen performances by international rock music acts like Jethro Tull, jazz musicians like bassist Victor Wooten, and fusion group Shakti.
This fortnight, the venue will celebrate a milestone of its own when it hosts three events to mark its sixtieth anniversary. The two concerts planned for the celebration are ensemble performances of 60 artists each. The first one will be a combination of 30 nadaswarams and 30 thavil players led by Chennai-based Vyasarpadi Kothandaraman. The second concert will be an ensemble of 60 violinists led by A Kanyakumari. On the final day, a special inaugural function will be presided by APJ Abdul Kalam.
The Shanmukhananda auditorium is a setting not only for performances but also important national and international events. With a seating capacity of 2,763 spread over three floors, it has hosted memorable events like talks by political leaders such as Lal Bahadur Shastri, Indira Gandhi, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Manmohan Singh and Lal Krishna Advani. In 2001, physicist Stephen Hawking presented a lecture that had the city’s elite, corporate leaders, media and hundreds of students converge at Sion.
Sri Shanmukhananda Fine Arts & Sangeetha Sabha, the organisation that runs the show at the auditorium, came into being in 1952 with the objective of promoting fine arts. The Sabha is now also a major music and dance training centre, a library and a research centre with archival recordings of many maestros of Indian classical music and dance. During the golden jubilee year of the organisation ten years ago, a theatre group was also formed known as the Shanmukhananda Theatre Group.
Chennai-based violinist Kanyakumari, who will perform at this fortnight’s concert, also performed at the Sabha’s golden jubilee celebrations. On that occasion, she led 50 violinists. A musician for the last 46 years, Kanyakumari embarked upon this kind of ensemble performance for the first time in 1995 when she showcased a programme with 25 violinists. “In 1997, for the 50 years of Independence Spirit of Unity concert, I performed with 50 violinists. Subsequently, I have done programmes with 60, 75, 100 artists,” she said. Kanyakumari has been performing as an accompanist and a soloist over the last several years. She was a regular accompanying violin player for noted Carnatic vocalist ML Vasanthakumari and many other vocalists.
At the Shanmukhananda Diamond Jubilee event, she plans to showcase a composition in Chandrakauns and Rama Nama Stotram as popularised by MS Subbulakshmi. Most of the 60 violinists are her students, seven of whom are from Mumbai, a few from Bangalore and Kerala and the rest from Chennai. One of her students is from the US too. “I initially teach 15 of my senior students who then will train others. Some of the students are imparted training through Skype and phone,” said Kanyakumari. This is followed by two to three sessions of rehearsals mainly to work on the sangathis (musical patterns) of the piece, she said. “It is very difficult to have a combined performance. If absolute synchronisation is there, the musical piece will turn out to be brilliant,” she said.
Vyasarpadi G Kothandaraman, who will lead an ensemble at the first concert, is considered one of the finest exponents of the nadaswaram, a wind instrument. He has trained under his father G Gopala Swami and won many awards and titles including the Naadswara Ratanam. At this concert, he will lead a group of 35 nadaswaram players and 25 thavil artists. The thavil is a percussion instrument that often accompanies the nadaswaram.
Kothandaraman, a resident of Chennai, has been rehearsing with his ensemble during the past few weekends. This is his first performance at Shanmukhananda, he said, adding that he thinks it is a great auditorium for concerts. Pieces he plans to play include a composition in Mallari raga, mainly played by nadaswaram artists. A ragam talam pallavi in raga Shanmukhapriya will be the highlight of this ensemble performance.
By Latha Venkatraman on July 06 2012 7.14am