He was the youngest artiste to represent our country at the Festival of India in the then USSR in 1987. Hailing from a family with an artistic background and a list of achievements, this veena artiste is a winner of various awards, titles and fellowships from the Ministry of Culture, Government of India. He is the only artiste, who has performed jugal bandhis with santoor, sarod and sitar artistes of North India and makes full use of the 312 octaves in the veena. He is none other than veena artiste B Kannan, nephew of Dr Padma Subramanyam, an internationally reputed dancer and research scholar. Certainly, this vainik , a traditionalist, who springs from the devoted and religiously bent family stands out. Even looking at him, one could see ‘piety’ on his face. His gentle smile always proclaims his genteel demeanour, and he would be reckoned as an artiste, carving a niche for himself in the arena of music.
Excerpts from an interview with him during a ‘Veena Utsav’ organised in the city recently:
About your USSR trip
“I accompanied my aunt for the festival of India in USSR in 1987. During the inaugural week, on the day of my concert, a heat wave was predicted and hence I decided to play amirithavarshini ragam tanam and Dikshitar’s immortal compositions — ananda amirtha varshini, praying to musical trinity and Kanchi Mahaswami. And yes, there was a heavy downpour, when I finished the kriti, the audience was elated. The same magic happened in 1994, in Japan, on the occasion of Pukuoka Asian Cultural Prize Award Ceremony, where my aunt was awarded, and also at Muthuswamy Dikshatar’s Samadhi at Ettayapuram. This only proves that the songs can be considered as the fountain head of the sublimity of sangeetha and in each one of them there is certainly some divinity.
What gave a flying start to your musical concerts?
Certainly the cultural environment at home with my aunt Padma Subramanyam, my father Balakrishnan, a reputed documentary filmmaker, and mother Shyamala Balakrishnan, a well-known singer and research scholar in music. Paternal grandfather Subramanyam, who was a well known director, and my paternal grandmother Meenakshi, who was also a composer and vainika. Our house always reverberated with the sound of music and ankle bells. I should admit that carnatic music has been my underlying core, an abiding passion and an integral part of living itself. For me, it is art for art’s sake.
What do you have to say about the technical aspect of playing the Veena?
I integrate the best of veena technique. The out pouring from the instrument should approximate of ‘vocal artistry’, I apply the technique to realise this effect, as far as possible.
What is your take on practice?
Like vocal music, there is akhara practice in veena. All the alankarams have to be learnt swara wise and akhara wise. This has to be practised in all sampoorna melakartha raga, which is a very important grip on laya. I remember my gurus—Vasantha Krishnamoorthy, R Pichumani Iyer and Dr S Balachander, who would always insist that the concealed intricacies in kirtanas and alapanas could be gained by the constant hearing of ‘good whole some music.’ I religiously follow this.