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Friday, April 23, 2021

The pandemic and the return of live music

After a damaging year, when live concerts were completely absent, the music is slowly and steadily returning to the proscenium

Written by Suanshu Khurana | New Delhi |
Updated: March 12, 2021 1:48:16 pm
geeta chandran live show, dance concerts delhi, music concerts delhi, live music shows, stein auditorium, habitat center, indianexpress, indianexpress.comBharatanatyam dancer Geeta Chandran. (PR handout)

When Bharatanatyam dancer Geeta Chandran turned into a love-lorn nayika — pining away for her lover — at this year’s Swati Thirunal Festival earlier this month, the audience was entranced by the story she told them. Her rhythmic drop of the heel, fluid gestures, expressive eyes, sweat dripping down her brow and neck, were all describing the composition by Swathi Thirunal, the Maharaja of Travancore and music composer credited with over 400 classical compositions in both Carnatic and Hindustani style. But what was even more special than Chandran’s nuanced presentation of the varnam (the centrepiece of a performance) was that the performance was not a livestream or being watched on a screen — the only way to watch a concert for almost a year. This was was an old-fashioned live performance where the audience sat at Delhi’s Stein Auditorium at India Habitat Centre in a socially distanced setting and felt the reverberations missing from our lives, as the Capital witnessed one of its first live concerts. Those present experienced Chandran bring her artform to life in the same space and it was special. “It was overwhelming,” says Chandran, adding, “It was an emotional moment to enter the green room, get ready, meet the musicians, friends, the staff and have a sense of what used to be regular some months back. It felt like home again. No screen is ever going to replace or compensate the totality of the experience that live performance is. Everything else is just a stopgap.

Before Chandran took the stage at Stein Auditorium, the evening opened with a Mohiniyattam performance by Jayaprabha Menon, a disciple of Bharathi Shivaji. Menon organises the festival every year under the aegis of the International Academy of Mohiniyattam, New Delhi.

Last month, Chandran opened the prestigious Khajuraho Dance Festival in Chattarpur, Madhya Pradesh, with the majestic Chitragupta Temple in the backdrop. That was her first live performance after almost a year. She has two other “socially distanced” performances lined up this month, one of which will be at Delhi’s Kamani auditorium. The evening will also feature a performance by Kathak exponent Shovana Narayan.

jayaprabha menon, classical dancer, live performances, pandemic arts Jayaprabha Menon, a disciple of Bharathi Shivaji. (Photo: PR handout)

The catharsis of a stage performance, for the performer as well as the live audience, always comes with one possibility — of magic being created. This abstract concept is why most people perform and why the audience decides to be on that journey alongside.

With Covid restrictions being relaxed in some parts of the country, live performances are slowly returning to the proscenium. While some of the world’s most well-known musicians invited us into their living rooms at the beginning of the pandemic with virtual performances, the magic of a live concert has been missing. So the news that this year’s Grammys will be live and will feature performances by Taylor Swift, Billie Ellish, Cardi B and Anoushka Shankar among others came to the fans as something to rejoice about.

The return to ‘normalcy’ in the world of the arts began in September with home concerts and small gatherings of about 30-40 people attending baithaks, one of the best ways to listen to classical music. Delhi-based sitar player Shubhendra Rao and his wife and cellist Saskia Rao-de-Haas started ‘Unlock Series’, where they opened their home in Hauz Khas, once every month for a musical soiree. The guests included musicians, dancers and their friends. It was an innovative response to the pandemic restrictions of the live sector. “We realised during the lockdown that artistes need their mode of expression and virtual concerts are just not the same. So we began doing small baithaks at home,” says Rao, who, apart from performing a duet with wife Saskia, organised performances by Hindustani vocalist Madhup Mudgal and Bharatanatyam exponent Sonal Mansingh, among others. Another regular baithak that filled up the void once Covid cases began going down has been “Bazm-e-Khaas” — concerts held in the living room of Ved Gupta, founder of a leading UPSC training institute.

But baithaks are always by invite and cater to a very small number. In the days after the baithaks, which are still ongoing though, more hybrid alternatives have emerged. These are socially distanced live concerts that are also telecast synchronously virtually.

Dr Ajit Pradhan, a Patna-based cardiac surgeon who also runs Navras School of Performing Arts, is looking forward to a live version of his Navankur Sangeet Samaroh– a three-day festival in early April. “I did the whole virtual thing, but I felt it was time we heard the music the way it’s meant to be heard, of course with all the rules of social distancing in place,” says Pradhan. The festival will feature some significant young names in the world of Hindustani classical music, such as vocalists Omkar Dadarkar, Sawani Shende and violinist Nandini Shankar, among others, and will be organised in an open space.

Dr Ajit Pradhan, a Patna-based cardiac surgeon who also runs Navras School of Performing Arts, is looking forward to a live version of his Navankur Sangeet Samaroh– a three-day festival in early April. “I did the whole virtual thing, but I felt it was time we heard the music the way it’s meant to be heard, of course with all the rules of social distancing in place,” says Pradhan. The festival will feature some significant young names in the world of Hindustani classical music, such as vocalists Omkar Dadarkar, Sawani Shende and violinist Nandini Shankar, among others, and will be organised in an open space.

Live concerts, pandemic The return to ‘normalcy’ in the world of the arts began in September with home concerts and small gatherings of about 30-40 people attending baithaks, one of the best ways to listen to classical music

Dr Ajit Pradhan, a Patna-based cardiac surgeon who also runs Navras School of Performing Arts, is looking forward to a live version of his Navankur Sangeet Samaroh– a three-day festival in early April. “I did the whole virtual thing, but I felt it was time we heard the music the way it’s meant to be heard, of course with all the rules of social distancing in place,” says Pradhan. The festival will feature some significant young names in the world of Hindustani classical music, such as vocalists Omkar Dadarkar, Sawani Shende and violinist Nandini Shankar, among others, and will be organised in an open space.

After a long hiatus, Delhi’s Piano Man Jazz Club also has live gigs lined up this month. Another upcoming concert in the Capital is ‘Uttar Dakshin’ organised by Delhi Muthamizh Peravai and featuring a confluence of Carnatic classical and Hindustani classical music. Featuring famed vocalist Sudha Raghunathan and slide guitar player Pt Debashish Bhattacharya, the concert will have two performers explore their respective worlds of music in a jugalbandi together.

Last month one of the more prominent festivals that went live was the 69th Dover Lane Music Conference — Kolkata’s hallowed platform for classical music and featured significant names such as Sanjeev Abhyankar (vocal), Satish Vyas (santoor), Jayateerth Mevundi (vocal) and Rampur-Sahaswan gharana doyen Rashid Khan among others.

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