It’s the season for classical music- but going to performances can be a mentally exhausting experience. Most nights there’s bound to be a succession of three of four musicians, each playing 45-minute segments. You’ve barely started to appreciate a musician’s delicate hand before she has to put her instrument aside. And now you’re assailed by another performer, another instrument, and another style of playing. Those festivals that took place decades ago, in the 70s, you think, were really quite wonderful. Each artiste had the freedom to perform for four or five hours at a time- one could really connect with the music.
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That’s the kind of atmosphere at Bahauddin Dagar wants to bring back with the Sannidhi festival, taking place from January 27 to 30 at St Andrews Auditorium, Bandra West. Dagar, who founded the four-day performing arts festival, says that Sannidhi stands out for giving each artist an entire evening to play for as long as they wish. Kicking off the festival is Kalipa Venu, one of the leading exponents of Kuttiyattam, the ancient classical Sankrit theatre from Kerala, and will be followed by Kolkata-based sitarist Mita Naig, Dhrupad vocalists Ritwik and Ribhu Sanyal, and Carnatic vocalist Alamelu Mani. With no restrictions on how long a performance can be, each musician can concentrate on the quality of his performance rather than feel pressured to complete it within a certain period of time.
“Nowadays, most performances have gotten shorter and are clubbed with others because big companies have started sponsoring these events. Everything turns into a show of publicity; entertainment becomes more important than just spending time with classical music. In addition, newspapers have slowly stopped doing reviews or criticism of classical music,” says Dagar. He recalls being a child and frequenting Rang Bhavan, now closed, for concerts. Beginners would be given a full two hours to perform, and the maestros up to seven. “There are many old admirers of classical music like me, who think music is a thing of leisure that one should get lost in,” says Dagar, “They welcome the Sannidhi festival as a return to the true form of classical music.”
Naig, a musician at Sannidhi, explains the development of a performance. “The progression is slow and systematic. There’s a lot of focus on the richness of an individual swara. There are four to five stages of development in just the alap, or the opening section in a piece of music, each of which takes 10-15 minutes to showcase. You have to explore the depth and nuances of each note as well as the space between the notes. It’s a spiritual, meditative exercise,” Naig says. “At Sannidhi, I am really going to enjoy playing the original Dhrupad style of music without having to cut it short”.
It’s not just the audience who is left disappointed after an abbreviated concert. Musicians themselves suffer. “While a very established musician knows how to put some elements aside and play only certain parts for an hour-long performance, younger musicians start thinking there’s a formula to secure your spot at music festivals- which does not make for a great performance,” says Dagar. But there’s no cause for worry about that at Sannidhi. “I’ve chosen each musician based on the fact that they have never felt they must cater to their audience. They are true artists. These musicians set the standard for our country’s classical music,” he says.