BENGALURU: Violinist and composer Dr L Subramaniam’s father V Lakshminarayana was trained as a vocalist from a very young age, from when he was four years old. At seven, Lakshminarayana gave his first concert. But, it was as a violinist that he changed the course of Carnatic music.
On January 11, the city will host Lakshminarayana Global Music Festival to honour his memory and his contribution.
Lakshminarayana had been invited to teach in Jaffna College of Music, in Sri Lanka, in 1935. There, his students were struggling to find violin accompanists and Lakshminarayana decided to train himself to play the instrument and help them out.
As a violinist, he noticed how instrumental Western classical music was more technically complex. Lakshminarayana went on to introduce new techniques to play the instrument, increasing its tonalities. “People would use just the index and middle fingers (of the left hand) to play the notes,” says Dr Subramaniam, and his father and tutor started using the ring and the little finger as well.
The technique also allowed for more vigorous renditions with the artiste able to play and pluck the strings simulaneously.
“A violin started to sound like an ensemble,” says Dr Subramaniam. While other violinists would use only the middle of the bow, Lakshminarayana asked the artiste to use its entire length. “If the artiste is just sticking to the middle, then get a smaller bow, he used to say,” remembers his son. Using the full-length, though taxing and a difficult approach to master, adds tonal layers to the performance. Lakshminarayana’s innovations took instrumental Carnatic music to the world stage and won the admiration of maestros from across the world including Yehudi Menuhin and Stephane Grapelli.
Lakshminarayana’s efforts were also for violinists to do solo concerts and not merely be accompanists, which was the common practice at his time. “Even today, violinists and accompanists play down their performance because the vocalist would take offence if they feel upstaged... the accompanist will not be invited for the next concert then,” says Dr Subramaniam.
Lakshminarayana wanted to break these restraints and he got a helping hand from Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavatar. There is a photo of the famed singer garlanding Lakshminarayana in a book on the festival, written by Dr Subramaniam and Dr Narayana Subramaniam. “Chembai used to encourage accompanists,” says Dr Subramaniam, “If he was not keeping well for a concert, then he would cut short his alaap and ask the violinist to elaborate.”
In December 1990, when Lakshminarayana passed away, Dr Subramaniam was shattered. “I had stopped playing the violin,” says the son. It was his wife Vijayashree (Viji) who asked him to channelise his grief into music and realise his father’s dream.
This week’s concert will start with a prayer and then a composition by Bach.
“Bach is one of the most important composers of the Baroque period,” says Dr Subramaniam. And Baroque period is when instrumental music became more structured, till then vocals was the centrepiece. The Baroque period is what gave Western instruments their due, which is in line with Lakshminarayana’s efforts for Indian instrumental music.
Passes for the event will be available at The New Indian Express Office, Queens Road.