Unique Violin-Viola Duet Vibrant Varnam to Tantalizing Tri-llana

By Abhishek Balakrishnan and Sudha Mani

The Classical Arts Society of Houston opened their 2023 season with a grand concert. The Houston music lovers were gifted with a treat, nay, a double treat of sorts: A Violin and Viola Duet by Sri Vittal Ramamurthy on the violin and Sri VVS Murari on the Viola. They were accompanied by two percussionists, Sri Tiruvarur Vaidyanathan on the Mridangam and Sri Guruprasad on the Ghatam.

The concert was held on February 25th at the Sri Meenakshi Temple and drew a large audience of over 250 Rasikas. CAS President Mrs. Nalini Sadagopan warmly welcomed and introduced the very eminent artists and founder member Mrs. Prabha Bala spoke fondly of the long association of Vittal sir and his sister Smt. Rajarajeshwary Bhat with the Houston Music circles. They have been an integral part of the Houston circles for over three decades and associated with CAS almost from its inception. So, to have Vittal Sir’s full-length concert and in an unusual format of a violinviola duet was truly special. Both these stringed instruments are usually seen in a western music orchestra, but in the hands of these stalwarts, it was evident how beautifully the combination was adapted to Carnatic music. The one octave difference (the violin being one octave higher than the viola) produced a somewhat symphonic quality with the sweet notes from the violin being complemented by the filling base of the viola. The subtle harmonies played by Sri VVS Murari on the viola did not take away from the traditional ambiance of a Kutcheri ; it in fact elevated the overall sound effect making the audience feel they were listening to an orchestra at times.

Shrividya Sridhar, Anjana Siddharth , Sesh Bala ,Sri Guruprasad, Sri Tiruvarur Vaidyanathan, Nalini Sadagopan , Prabha Bala, Rajarajeshwary Bhat, Sri Vittal Ramamurthy , Sri VVS Murari ,Sudha Mani , Vatsa Kumar

The concert commenced with the Bhairavi Ata Tala Varnam Viribhoni, followed by the evergreen Vatapi Ganapathim in Hamsadwani. The energetic Kalpana swara exchanges were so enjoyable. In Marugelara , one could almost hear the lyrics, imploring Raghava to show His form and not be hidden.
The next item in Varali ,Maamava Meenakshi was presented only by Sri Murari on the Viola. The Alapana explored in the deep registers of the viola was mystical.

The kriti, chosen especially for the temples’ presiding deity ,was presented with great feeling and sensitivity making it truly soulfu. Mysore Vasudevachaarya’s composition in Abheri Bhajare Re Manasa was as elegant and unhurried as Shobillu Saptaswara was brisk. The sound quality experienced here was that of an orchestra with the two octaves complementing so beautifully. The two percussionists added majestically to that symphonic feeling.
Saint Tyagrajas grand composition of O Rangasayee in Kambhoji was the main piece and it was truly grand. It was presentenced in a leisurely pace, each artist adding beauty and embellishment to an already exquisite jewel. There was smooth progression and exchanges of each signature phrase of the ragam by the artists.
While Vittal Ramamurthy painted the outlines and shades unhurriedly, VVS Murari filled in the intricate details with long breathless phrases. The Kalpana Swarams to Bhuloka Vaikuntam were masterful; the intricate alternating patterns between chatusra and tisra nadais were engaging; koraipu on the daivatham and final korvais in three speeds had the audience rivetted and enthralled.

The Mridangam and Ghatam exchanges by Thiruvarur Vaidynathan and Guruprasad were vibrant ,crisp and engaging. The audience responded with thunderous applause at the end of the percussion ‘thani’. There was complete understanding between these two artists and their modulations truly enhanced the whole experience.
The popular compositions Manasa Sancharare, Jagadodharana, and Baro Krishnayya were so soothing and sweet both in their familiarity and rendition.

The concert concluded with a unique Tillana presentation. Three of Sri Lalgudi Jayaraman’s Tillanas were combined seamlessly into one. Starting with the melting Madhuvanti thillana, they traditioned into the dreamy Desh and moved onto to soulful Sindhubhairavi. It was such a rich and fulfilling rounding off to a memorable concert. The audience was on their feet, cheering, applauding.

The Tri-llana was a Thrill-ana.