United Kingdom Aagaami (“Future”) :Various Artists from the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. Queen Elizabeth Hall, London. 17.3.2012 (CC)
Rajkumar Bharati: Ragamalika and Talamalika
Svati Tirunal Maharaja: Ambuja Nabha (arr. Padma Bhushan & Professor T. V. Gopalakrishnan)
Hindustani Vocal: Raag Bihag (Khayal by Pandit Gyan Prakash Ghosh; Tarana by Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan)
Balu Raguraman: Raga Varamu; Tala Adi
Bharatanatyam (pieces in praise of Krishnaand Shiva)
This celebration of the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan (www.bhavan.net), a most remarkable school of Indian arts, could hardly be better named – “Aagaami” means “Future”. The academy’s stated aim is “to preserve for posterity the tradition of Indian art and culture.” Founded in 1938 in Mumbai, India, its UK arm was its first overseas venture.
The two parts of the concert presented firstly instrumental music, then dance (to recorded music). The row of sitars was impressive (they were joined by a number of violins and various Indian percussion instruments), as was the sound of the simple but powerful statement of “Ragamalika”. Raga is a vital and inexhaustible part of Indian music. It was, it is true, loud to the point of overload, especially with the students singing the rag as well as the instruments belting it out, plus embellishments. But the effect was undeniable. “Ambuja Nabha” takes a popular melody, the rag Kadanakutuhalam and, to my occidental ears, uses it as a cantus firmus, with the tala rhythms decorating the sounds around it.
The florid nature of the Hindustani vocals (the Raag Bihag, set to a sixteen-beat cycle and heard with pieces by Pandit Gyan Prakash Ghosh and Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan) were vocalises concluding with a percussion dialogue that showed off the impressive skills of the pupils. Finally, vina (sometimes spelled veena, a guitar-like instrument) virtuoso Hari Sivanesan rounded off a fascinating first half.
Dance was the focal point of the second half. Although Kathak dance is all about storytelling, this was the main gist of the whole of the second half. A pity it was danced to recorded music (especially after the live music of the first half, it lost much of its immediacy), but the procession of visual delights in terms of colour and sheer beauty of movement was mesmeric. All items were choreographed by the Bhavan’s Kathak guru, Abhay Shankar Mishra. The depiction of Krishna with his flute was delightful, all dancers moving with exquisite grace. Perhaps the highlight was “Tilana”, a vibrant piece that usually ends an evening as it is full of colour and spectacle. This fascinating evening also acted as a taster for the Southbank Centre’s Alchemy Festival (April12-22), so there should be plenty to enjoy there.