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How an online music festival is producing high-quality concerts in empty halls

Swar Samrat, an online music festival commemorates legendary sarod player Ut Ali Akbar Khan, and is presenting 36 concerts by 100 musicians from empty auditoriums

Written by Suanshu Khurana | New Delhi |
November 17, 2020 8:50:03 pm
Swar Samrat, Swar Samrat festival, online music festival, Indian classical music, indian express lifestyle, indian express newsSarod player Tejendra Narayan Majumdar has put together Swar Samrat Festival, one of the biggest online festivals of classical music and dance in the country at this point.

With the pandemic not finding any repose, the Indian classical music industry has become clear about one thing – the audience is not going to return to the auditoriums and concert halls anytime soon. During the pandemic, many artistes took to performing online, which has been a learning experience for the artistes who usually crave verbal appreciation or ‘daad’ from those present for the chamber music form. They have learned to perform for a screen, attempting to appeal to people through the available bandwidth.

Initially, the concerts were free, simply attempting to soothe those who were tuning in. This was a time when arts were being used to create a feeling of normalcy. This was followed by the idea of aid, wherein the artistes were trying to raise money to help fellow musicians. This has continued for a while now, where a few projects and concerts, such as classical vocalist Shubha Mudgal’s ‘Gift a concert’, take place regularly.

Sarod player Tejendra Narayan Majumdar was completely taken aback after one of his friend’s violin students wanted to sell his fiddle. “I could not believe that an instrument which was the sole medium to practice his art was going to be sold for food,” says Majumdar, who decided to rope in artistes he knew, such as Patiala gharana vocalist Kaushiki Chakrabarty, tabla player Bickram Ghosh and violinist Mysore Manjunath to find a way to support the artistes. “Besides aiding those in need, the idea was also to provide the performing artistes with a platform to perform and generate work for them,” says Majumdar, who has now put together Swar Samrat Festival, one of the biggest online festivals of classical music and dance in the country at this point.

Swar Samrat, Swar Samrat festival, online music festival, Indian classical music, indian express lifestyle, indian express news Saraswati veena player Jayanthi Kumaresh

When Majumdar was planning the festival a few months ago, he was clear about not having these online concerts from the artistes’ homes. He felt that there were many problematic factors such as low production value, sound issues and musicians performing from their living rooms – a situation that lacked aesthetics often. He wanted an experience of a real concert with proper production value, lighting, a stage, and camera angles. He started by picking five significant centres of classical music in the country – Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Kolkata and Bangalore – and made a list of artistes he could work with. With the help of his son Indrayuddh Majumdar, and wife and vocalist Manasi Majumdar, he made technical teams, finalised venues and decided to record the artistes in auditorium stages decked up for concerts. “The sound, for me, is of paramount significance. And those home concerts are just not being able to do any justice. I hope this festival will encourage artistes to perform in this way and for people to get used to the idea of a concert online which they pay for and which will come as close to reality as we can get at this time,” says Majumdar.

The festival is being held to commemorate Majumdar’s guru Ut Ali Akbar Khan and will feature 100 artistes in 36 performances over a period of three months. The artistes being presented at the festival, apart from Ghosh, Chakrabarty and Manjunath, include legendary violinist N Rajam, Jaipur-Atrauli gharana exponent Ashwini Bhide-Deshpande, Saraswati veena player Jayanthi Kumaresh, sitar player Shubhendra Rao, Pune-based noted vocalist Ulhas Kashalkar and santoor player Satish Vyas, among others. In a festival that opened on November 4, previous concerts have featured a duet between Kumaresh and flute player Pravin Godkhindi and classical vocalist Sandipan Samajpati among others. the concerts take place every weekend.

In its ninth year now, the festival would usually be held over four days in Kolkata. This time, two performances will premiere digitally every Sunday till February 28 next year. Majumdar has managed to rope in a few sponsors so that all the artistes could be paid their fee. The festival is also using multiple ticketing and subscription options. While a single performance can be watched for Rs 99, a monthly pass can be bought for Rs 299, while a full festival pass is for Rs 999.

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