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The pandemic and the return of live music

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When the dancer of Bharatanatyam Geeta Chandran become a lover nayika – sighing for her lover – at this year’s Swati Thirunal Festival earlier this month, audiences were fascinated by the story she told them. His rhythmic heel drop, fluid gestures, expressive eyes, sweat dripping down his forehead and neck, described the composition of Swathi Thirunal, the Maharaja of Travancore and musical composer who is credited with more than 400 classical compositions in both carnatic and musical styles Hindustani. But what was even more special than Chandran’s nuanced presentation of the varnam (the centerpiece of a performance) was that the performance was not a live broadcast nor was it being viewed on a screen, the only way to watch a concert for almost one year. This was an old-fashioned live performance, in which the audience sat in Delhi’s Stein Auditorium at the India Habitat Center in a socially detached setting and felt the reverberations that were missing from our lives as the capital witnessed one of his first live concerts. Chandran’s seasoned presents bring their art form to life in the same space and it was special. “It was overwhelming,” says Chandran, adding, “It was an emotional moment to walk into the green room, get ready, meet the musicians, friends, staff, and get a feel for what used to be customary a few months ago. It felt like home again. No screen will replace or compensate for the totality of the experience that is live performance. Everything else is just a gap.

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

Last month, Chandran inaugurated the prestigious Khajuraho Dance Festival in Chattarpur, Madhya Pradesh, with the majestic Chitragupta Temple as a backdrop. That was their first live performance in almost a year. He has two other “socially estranged” performances scheduled this month, one of which will be at the Kamani auditorium in Delhi. The night will also feature a performance by Shovana Narayan, an exponent of Kathak.

Jayaprabha Menon, disciple of Bharathi Shivaji. (Photo: PR brochure)

The catharsis of a stage performance, for both the performer and the live audience, always comes with a possibility: the creation of magic. This abstract concept is why most people act and why the audience decides to go on that journey at the same time.

With Covid restrictions loosening in some parts of the country, live performances are slowly making their way back to the stage. While some of the world’s best-known musicians invited us into their living rooms at the beginning of the pandemic with virtual performances, the magic of a live concert was lacking. 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 fans as something to rejoice in.

The return to ‘normalcy’ in the world of the arts began in September with concerts at home and small gatherings of between 30 and 40 people who attended baithaks, one of the best ways to listen to classical music. Sitar performer Shubhendra Rao and his wife and cellist Saskia Rao-de-Haas started the ‘Unlock Series’, where they opened their home in Hauz Khas once a month for a musical evening. Guests included musicians, dancers, and their friends. It was an innovative response to pandemic restrictions in the living sector. “We realized during the confinement that artists need their mode of expression and virtual concerts are simply not the same. So we started doing little baithaks at home, ”says Rao, who, in addition to performing a duet with his wife Saskia, organized performances by Hindustani vocalist Madhup Mudgal and Bharatanatyam exponent Sonal Mansingh, among others. Another regular baithak that filled the void once Covid cases started to decline has been “Bazm-e-Khaas,” concerts held in the living room of Ved Gupta, founder of a major training institute for UPSC.

But the baithaks are always by invitation and serve a very small number. In the days after the baithaks, which are still ongoing, more hybrid alternatives have emerged. These are socially distanced live concerts that are also broadcast synchronously in a virtual way.

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

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

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

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

After a long hiatus, Piano Man Jazz Club Delhi also has live concerts scheduled this month. Another upcoming concert in the capital is ‘Uttar Dakshin’ organized by Delhi Muthamizh Peravai and featuring a confluence of Carnatic and Hindustani classical music. Featuring famous vocalist Sudha Raghunathan and slide guitarist Pt Debashish Bhattacharya, the concert will have two artists explore their respective musical worlds in a bandi juggernaut together.

Last month, one of the most prominent festivals that got underway was the 69th Dover Lane Music Conference, Kolkata’s sacred platform for classical music and featured big names such as Sanjeev Abhyankar (voice), Satish Vyas (santoor ), Jayateerth Mevundi (voice) and Rampur. -Sahaswan gharana dean Rashid Khan among others.

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