Most listeners had already left the venue of the Saptak Music Festival when Pandit Ulhas Kashalkar took the stage at one in the morning. What followed was a musical experience the 150-odd true lovers of Indian classical music will remember and reminisce for a long time.
At the end of this unforgettable concert,the audience was left in no doubt as to why Pandit Kashalkar is hailed as one of the most original thinkers and exponents of vocal music.
Pandit Kashalkar,who has learnt the khayal gayaki of three gharanas (Gwalior,Jaipur and Agra) began his performance with a khayal in raga Jaiaiwanti. The alaap started in a bandish set with a slow tempo and he gradually developed and revealed his conception of the raga with the badhat method (a step by step development of the raga); his surprisingly flexible but powerful voice taking over the minds of the audience who had by then become more and more attentive in order to capture the nuances and subtlety of the swaras (musical notes) and the order in which the artist chose to sing them.
While listening to Pandit Kashalkar,the audience became more and more expectant and anxious on account of the amazing spontaneity with which he unfolded the architectonics of his musical design to present the final form of the raga. The listeners became anxious to know in what way he caught the mukhda (refrain) of the bandish and arrived at the sam. He did this with extremely complicated and intricate patterns of layakari (rythmics),the hallmark of the Agra gharana. Raga Jaijaiwanti is by nature very melodious and when its alaap is presented with such virtuosity,it becomes even more effective in creating a calm and soothing atmosphere.
The vilambit bandish was followed by a bandish in the faster tempo where Pandit Kashalkar presented patterns of taans and layakari that the audience could not resist responding to. All along this presentation one could see and hear how completely the audience was absorbed in partaking of the musical experience that Pandit Kashalkar was creating. The innovativeness applied by him in composing and weaving together these very difficult taan patterns is perhaps what makes him a unique artist in the contemporary music.
The second presentation by Pandit Kashalkar was the piece-de-resistance in the form of a rarely performed raga named Basanti-Kedar,which as its name suggests,is a combination of raga Basant and raga Kedar. The blending of these two ragas offer a large number of possible permutations and combinations of swaras and the artist has the freedom to switch over from one raga to another at will. In this rendition also,Pandit Kashalkar displayed the fabulous range of his musical imagination and his mastery over the intricacies of laya. It was about three in the morning when he completed his concert and was greeted by a standing ovation by the audience who were fortunate not to have missed such a wonderful experience that comes by rarely. Pandit Kashalkar was ably supported by Ramdas Palsule on the tabla,Ajay Joglekar on the harmonium and Bharat Bhushan Goswamy on the sarangi.