A legacy that’s called lalgudi

Violinist duo Lalgudi Vijayalakshmi and Lalgudi GJR Krishnan will be conferred the Indira Sivasailam Endowment Award this month.
Lalgudi vijayalakshmi performing at a concert
Lalgudi vijayalakshmi performing at a concert

Violinist duo Lalgudi Vijayalakshmi and Lalgudi GJR Krishnan will be conferred the Indira Sivasailam Endowment Award this month.Vijayalakshmi is ecstatic and grateful because this is the first time that instrumentalists are being given this award

CHENNAI: She is known for her duets with her brother, and is as much a veteran in carnatic music as her sibling and father. Along with her brother Lalgudi GJR  Krishnan, Vijayalakshmi is keeping the legacy of their father violin maestro Lalgudi G Jayaraman alive. They will be conferred with the Indira Sivasailam Endowment Award in the city on September 22. “I enjoy playing duets with my brother. For the past eight years, this award was given only to vocalists and this is the first time that instrumentalists are getting the award. It is a great honour,” she says. For now, Lalgudi Vijayalakshmi is in Dallas gearing up for a performance with the Dallas-based orchestra Raag Rythm. In a telephonic chat, she talks about growing under her father’s wing, her camaraderie with her brother, and performing with orchestras abroad. Excerpts follow.
You belong to an illustrious family.

Lalgudi vijayalakshmi with her brother Lalgudi GJR Krishnan
Lalgudi vijayalakshmi with her brother Lalgudi GJR Krishnan

How was it growing up in a family of musicians?
I began playing violin when I was six. The whole atmosphere in our home was filled with music. We had no other distractions like TV; our full concentration was on music. More than anything, I had a lot of exposure as my father used to practice every day and he also had his students. That apart, every conversation in our house was about music. We had prominent musicians coming to our house and my father will be discussing something on concerts, compositions and such. I was like a fish in the ocean; music came naturally to me.

Was there any pressure on you?
I never had any pressure. As I said, it was just destined that I had to learn music. It was a pressure for my brother. My father used to perform with his sisters. After they got married and domestic situations didn’t allow them to pursue, my brother had to fill in that spot. He was 13 then. Though I started learning at a young age, I only started performing at 16 and that too with my brother.

What was it like...Learning from Lalgudi G Jayaraman?
He was a very passionate teacher and thoroughly enjoyed it. There was no difference in his teaching when it came to us or his students; all of us were equal. Yes, we did have private sessions with him, but in a class we were one among the many students who came to learn from him. His motto was that if you are ready to receive knowledge he was there to share it. He was a perfectionist too. He would not be impressed easily by your rendition and would ask you to keep going. He would make us see the beauty in music and painstakingly explain even
the abstract concepts. He would draw examples from nature. This made us realise that music is not just theory; there is an aesthetic sense too.

Though you do solo performances, most of it are with your brother. Tell us more about that.
My first concert was with him. I started taking music seriously when I began performing with him. It just happened. I have also performed with other musicians but obviously I share a comfort level with him. We perform the same bani and it is easier for us to get in sync. I do jugalbandhis with other musicians and my role there differs. Each performance has a different aspect.

Not many classical musicians want to mix two different genres..that’s why they keep away from jugalbandis. Comment
Jugalbandi does not mean that a certain genre of music is moving away from its territory. There are restrictions, yes, but it is a different platform. In a jugalbandi, carnatic music is not full-fledged like a solo concert. We don’t perform and kriti or neraval. But we come midway and strike a balance. When the two genres have the same raagam, the magic is different; when you interact with that raagam its identity is not lost. Personally, I don’t wish to do jugalbandis often.

What inspires you to compose?
I believe innovation is not the end result of something and it is also not something that is planned. My father has made innovations that are musically rich. I also aim to make innovations that embellish the quality of music. One of my recent innovations was based on the Panchabootas. I had come up with this for a performance as a part of July Fest at Krishna Gana Sabha. I stepped out of the carnatic realm and brought in string instruments and an orchestra. There are two belief systems — music is all about lyrics and lyrics doesn’t define music. I wanted to find a middle ground. I used the instruments to create sounds of the five elements and the raagams were chosen accordingly. It was appreciated by the audience. This is what I will be performing with the Raag Rhythm team in Dallas.

How did this collaboration come to be?
Raag Rhythm was started by two women — Sumana Hegde and Jaishree Shankar, to make NRI kids learn more about carnatic music because it so happens that kids abroad usually take to western music. They invited students to be a part of it and last year, they paid a tribute to MS amma. This year, it’s a fundraising event where I will be performing with over 50 students. I have been sending them notes and practicing for over eight months. I am overwhelmed by the children’s enthusiasm.

What’s the level of awareness on violin today?
I have always felt that audiences prefer vocal concerts than instrumental concerts. Here’s where the debate comes in to play. I believe music cannot be appreciated without the school’s support. Every school should include music in its curriculum and let the child choose. Most instruments are not preferred these days. I wish for equal appreciation for instrumental concerts as well.

Quick five
Favourite Raagam: Thodi
Inspiration: My father
Favourite Jugalbandhi: with Shahid Parvez ji
A quality all musicians must have: Never stop learning
Favourite composition of your father’s:
Huseni varnam

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