A famous classical musician is unable to sleep after an evening concert and gets up to write a rare moving note to his audience: “Yesterday was a confirmation that life goes on and as artists we have to keep doing what we do. I am a singer and I get up every day to sing. I do this while I can’t wait to sing in public, and when I do, I hope and wish you all show up and feel worthy and motivated to give my best. It also confirms and justifies the work I do every day at home and leaves me with a feeling of euphoria, emotion and above all gratitude! All I can say is thank you thank you thank you”.
As he himself admits, it was the “high” of the concert that kept him more or less awake all night.
The musician is Sanjay Subrahmanyan and the “Sanjay Sabha Live” concert in Chennai on Saturday – his return to the big stage after the pandemic-induced disruption of nearly two years.
And what a sensation it was!
– Prasanna Sampathkumar (@tcsprasan) December 11, 2021
Probably something that even his most seasoned fans would not have known before. An intriguing thriller that took us on completely unknown paths, a grandiose journey into nature. There were no beaten paths and it was full of twists and turns. One of those unusual trips to “live the moment” in which you just had to immerse yourself in the moment and live a magical experience. The return to reality was when he sang a touching Ashtapadi followed by the farewell piece (mangalam) after three hours.
Any description of Sanjay’s music lately has become a cliché of superlatives; However, it’s safe to say that on Saturday it was a new Avatar who took his music – technically, aesthetically, and experimentally – to a whole new realm. There were indeed early signs that it was going to be quite a trip when he started with the Viriboni varnam in Bhairavi. Unlike the usual setting, in which the Varnam is kind of a warm-up piece that synchronizes the stage as well as the audience, it was at full blast from the start – in the air and in the pitch. As audiences would soon realize, the remarkable exuberance and power that suddenly erupted before them was not just a harbinger of things to come, but a sure promise that would be kept too much.
It was during the raga alapana Saveri and Revati that we felt that this concert had already reached a new magical field of experience. His regular audience is well acquainted with his Saveri, but this time it seemed to have acquired a new face of beauty and expansion and a new radiance. But when the line (Sa Ri Ga Sa Ri), which he lightly uses to connect with his audience, came late, they laughed together reliving memories of past concerts.
Revati (Ragam Thanam Pallavi) defied gravity. Usually in his live concerts, when Sanjay goes up the octave, he only touches the upper Pa (and occasionally Dha); but this time he went all the way to Shadjam, effortlessly and with clarity of expression. And it suddenly opened the doors to a new magical world. It was a Sanjay that we had never seen live before. While there were a few musicians who crossed three octaves, in Sanjay’s experiential depth art, it meant a new layer of mystery. And in the same alapana, he did it all over again. The unknown desert was suddenly wide open in front of a person.
Indeed, the inventor Kalpanaswaras in the second song (Raghunayaka by Tyagaraja) in Hamsadhwani itself had made the public take off soon enough. Probably even his most seasoned violinist, S Varadarajan, would not have anticipated that he would start swaras the way he did; but then they coasted together as the swaras began to organize themselves, with a subtle mathematical flavor, from scratch. The Harikambhoji (Pamalai, Papanasam Sivan), Narayani (Bettada Melondu, Akka Mahadevi) and Bhoologakumari (Ranjani, Subramania Bharati) which preceded the Revathi RTP all had high characteristics of inventiveness in terms of sangathis, variations, swaras, and emotional depth. After all, he is a master of expressions.
Overall, the most notable feature of the concert was its journey into the unknown. Unbridled exploration, where the people you take – including those who have traveled with you for years – have wide eyes in bewilderment, without violating the integrity of form is not easy; but Sanjay did it as a daring magician. As the great American pianist and teacher Leon Fleischer said, “the performer is like a mountain dweller in the Alps. He knows the way to the top of the mountain. He takes you there, but his goal is to make you enjoy the view ”.
Varadarajan, Neyveli Venkatesh (mridangam) and Anirudh Athreya (Ganjira) also made the trip enjoyable by setting the stage on fire. The way Varadarajan complimented the vocals and the way Venkatesh amplified the pace with incredible speed, energy and impact with Anirudh was simply outstanding. the Thani Avarthanam was a real stumbling block that elicited one of the longest standing ovations I’ve heard at recent concerts.
Besides his virtuosity, what really strikes about Sanjay is his musical wisdom and social intelligence. In fact, none of the skills matter without them. Fleischer summed it up quite eloquently when he spoke of the importance of playing every note in a piece of music while maintaining the big picture: the microcosmic and the macrocosmic. Sanjay has the unusual ability to simultaneously visualize this big picture and the finer details. He also knows that exhilarating musical experiences are co-created with audiences.
What was on display was also the Sanjay Subrahmanyan brand, thanks to Bhargavi Mani and his team at Bhargavi Mani & Consultants, who was the architect of “Sanjay Sabha”, the digital channel and now, “Sanjay Sabha Live”.
And let me quote Leon Fleischer once again to sum up the concert: “Every piece of music is an adventure in anti-gravity because we conquer gravity when we make music. The moment the music stops, gravity takes over.