Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Ashwini Bhide....

What: A review of an ICMCA sponsored concert of Indian Classical Music
Who: Ashwini Bhide (Vocal), Vishwanath Shirodkar (Tabla), Seema Shirodkar (Harmonium)
Where: Casa de Luz, Austin, Texas
When: 7 pm-10pm June 11, 2010

This review is offered as a service to the community interested in Indian Classical Music. We believe that reviews can be important channels for feedback to the artists, audiences and aficionados of music and are necessary to keep the field vibrant and the discussion lively. In this spirit comments on and reviews of this review are also most welcome.

The concert began at 7:20 pm with Raag Maaru Behaag, an evening melody. The Vilambit (slow) Khayal was set to the wording ``Rasiya na Jaa" and came to the Sum (first beat of the Tabla) with the notes S M G-S, G M P-MP-(upper case letters denote raised and lower case letters denote flattened notes). Maaru Behaag is a favorite Raag of Maharashrians and the predominantly Marathi audience immediately responded spiritedly to Ashwini Bhide's tuneful rendering of this beautiful Raag. Although the emphasis is on the GMP-MP- phrase, Maaru Behaag also sounds very beautiful in its approach to the Komal (flattened) Madhyam m (fourth note F) as in the phrase S m P G and the artist skillfully exploited this specialty of the Raag. The Vilambit Khayal was followed by a Drut Khayal (both were set to 16 beats Teentaal and Addha equivalently Sitarkhaani, respectively) which had the same ending note cluster as in the Vilambit. The artist displayed her impressive virtuosity and voice control with many fast Taans and complex Layakari (rhythmic patters) and the total treatment of Maaru Behaag lasted over 40 minutes.

The next item was a Thumree with the wording ``Sunder Saari..." due to the 15th century North Indian Brij Bhasha poet Surdas to whom over 1500 poems have been attributed. The artist blended a number of light classical Raagas including Piloo, Khammaach, Maand and Shivranjani to render this lovely and lyrical song, which as she explained in the beginning had an obvious (soiled Saari) as well as a deeper philosophical meaning (body versus soul).

After the intermission the artist began with the late night Raag Maalkouns in which she first presented a Vilambit composition in Roopak Taal, of seven beats. The Sum was chosen to be on S and the wording was ``Naada Saagar Aparampaar, Maha Katthin, Jo Paayo Na Paayo". She elaborated the Raag with care and in detail and explored it thouroughly before moving on to the Drut (fast) composition in Teentaal (16 beats). The emphasis now shifted to the upper part of the octave with mukhra (S d, g-m n-).The fast composition had many fireworks and came as a wonderful and welcome contrast to the Ati Vilambit Khayaal.

At this point it is necessary to mention the outstanding accompaniment provided by Seema Shirodkar on the Harmonium. She very quickly established herself, early in the concert, with her brilliant and tasteful improvisations while not overstepping her supportive role. I have not heard this level of great music from a Harmonium player and was truly overwhelmed as was the entire audience. She drew repeated applause from the enthusiastic audience.

The next item was a Bhajan in Raag Iman Kalyaan with wording composed by Sant Tukaram the 17th century (1577(?) -1650) Marathi saint. The music of this beautiful composition was set by Ashwini Bhide's mother and Guru Manik Bhide. Although Iman Kalyaan has the same set of notes as Maaru Behaag the treatment and approach are quite distinct and the artist gave a great account of this important and central evening Raag. The Bhajan ended with the refrain ``Pandurang Vitthala", a prayer to Lord Vitthala (Krishna), worshipped by Tukaram.

The performance concluded with an Abhang (Marathi) Bhajan in Raag Bhairavi which has become a traditional concluding item in evening concerts even though it is a morning Raag. The singing was emotionally intense and spirited and ended in a highly charged atmosphere.

Ashwini Bhide is a truly great artist. So is Seema Shirodkar. Vishwanath Shirodkar provided able and spirited Tabla accompaniment and was most communicative with the audience. Dr Bhide has a Ph.D in Biochemistry but nowhere in the publicity did she flaunt this fact. This is indicative of her modesty and is highly commendable in today's environment where titles such as Pandit and Ustaad abound and are often self-bestowed. The Austin concert was the 25th US concert for this group, on the present tour, and it is easy to see why they are in such demand given the brilliant concert they presented.

ICMCA has therefore once again brought great music to Austin and Austinites and deserves congratulations. Nevertheless a few critical remarks may be pertinent to future events. First the concert began late, a pattern that has come to be associated, regrettably, with Indian functions in general. In this case 20 minutes was not excessive by Indian standards and even understandable because of the unexpected turnout (140 people). The venue was quite inadequate and a disservice to such a great artist. Its physical appearance was dismal and so were the acoustics. Lastly, ICMCA's regular sound man appeared in his usual uniform sporting a pair of rather short shorts, squatted in the front row on the floor with raised legs, and repeatedly pointed his toes toward the artist. This is unacceptable in the concert culture of Indian Classical Music. ICMCA may be reluctant to impose a dress code on the audience but surely it can impose a simple dress code on their soundman: No shorts or armpit revealing cutoff vests. ICMCA has acquired a good reputation for hosting outstanding artists. They can greatly improve their wonderful musical presentations by eliminating some of the relatively minor irritants mentioned here.

Sur Saadhak

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