Ahead of Chennai’s December music season, a couple of readers wrote in asking me what I was most looking forward to, and what they should watch out for. Here, accordingly, is Raagtime’s gentle guide to four prospective highlights of the season.
Parasala Ponnammal: The standout concert of December 2008, for me, was that of Parasala Ponnammal, about whom I raved, like an awestruck fan, in this space. She is 86 years old, but as I wrote, “her voice has all the burnished richness of advanced age but none of its infirmities”. Given her age, Ponnammal does not travel and perform as frequently as we would like, so make every effort to listen to her at the Music Academy on the morning of 20 December.
The out-of-towners: Being in Chennai in December is the ideal way to get a glimpse of the Carnatic music landscape in India as squads of musicians descend on the city—musicians you could otherwise never hear in person unless you visited their hometowns. I have my own small list of musicians I’ve been hearing about and intend finally to hear in live concert: Hemmige Prashanth, a Bangalore-based singer, for instance, and Kottakkal Ranjith Varier, a vocalist from Thrissur. The season also gives you second chances. Mysore A. Chandan Kumar, a flautist and the grandson of the renowned violinist T. Chowdiah, has performed in Chennai before, but I’ve never quite managed to catch him. That will, I hope, change this month.
Gnanambiga: Last December, Gnanambiga, arguably the season-goer’s most beloved canteen, was missing from its usual spot at the Narada Gana Sabha auditorium; a particularly severe spell of rain that year had ruined much of the caterer’s supplies and equipment. They were sorely missed. I have fond memories of 2007, of their superb breakfasts, but also of their lavish, multi-course lunch, served on banana leaves in a jury-rigged dining area behind the auditorium. It was the sort of lunch that deserved to live in rhyme and song, and it left you no recourse but to toddle back into the hall, sink into one of the seats, and let the music wash you into a serene stupor. Gnanambiga Rajan, one of the brothers of this worthy family, tells me that they are prepared to be back this year, but that no firm commitments have been made as yet. By the time this column appears in print, however, they should hopefully be ensconced at the Narada Gana Sabha, plying me with food and filter coffee.
Well seasoned: Attendees look forward to good food and coffee too. Rajesh Kashyap/HT City
Sriram’s lecture: Every year, the music historian V. Sriram delivers a talk on a personality of Carnatic music—a composer, a prolific musicologist, an underrated performer—at the intimate TAG Centre auditorium. These talks are billed as lectures, but they hardly deserve the notions of dullness that word carries; they are, instead, sparkling monologues in Sriram’s inimitably genial, humorous manner, always augmented by audio clips and visual presentations. Last year, Sriram’s subject was the composer Harikesanallur Muthiah Bhagavatar. This year, he generously gives two talks: on the innovative 19th century composer Maha Vaidyanatha Sivan (on 20 December) and on the veena maestro S. Balachander (on 27 December). The talks are by invitation only, but Sriram informs me that invites can be procured by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org
Write to Samanth Subramanian at email@example.com