Violin Prodigy Enthralls Houston Audience


By Dr. Ritu Raju

HOUSTON: Carnatic music lovers in Houston braved the rains to welcome the newest entrant to Houston’s vibrant cultural landscape—the musical prodigy Aishwarya Venkataraman, disciple of the famed violinist T.N. Krishnan and respected musicologist S.R. Janakiraman. The artiste, along with her father, Vinod Venkataraman (on the mridangam) and violin maestro Dr. Narmadha Gopalakrishnan (daughter of legendary violinist M S Gopalakrishnan), performed a benefit concert in aid of Baylor College of Medicine’s Baylor International Pediatric AIDS Initiative (BIPAI) on 21 March at the Cullen Auditorium. They were accompanied on the tanpura by Houston’s own Kruthi Bhat.

Aishu, as she is fondly called, tied in the theme of the concert beautifully into her musical selections; she began the evening with a 5-speed varnam in the raga Keeravani to reflect the five stages of progression of AIDS. She and Dr. Narmadha took the audience on a delightful cruise through an ocean of ragas. The classic Vatapi in Hamsadhwani culminated in a rhapsody of kalpana swarams that showed exquisite fingering and bowing techniques. The Ragam Thanam Pallavi (an improvisation segment where the artistes show their mastery over the raga and delineate the raga with spontaneous ornamentation) was an engaging odyssey through a number of ragas—Mohanam (Bhoopali), Subha Pantuvarali, Ananda Bhairavi, Kapi, Behag, Kanada, Sahana, and Nalinakanti. The purity of notes and clarity of expression of both performers resulted in an intricate exposition of these ragas. Under Narmadha and Aishu’s superb handling, the raga Nalinakanthi assumed an added splendor and vibrancy. Vinod Venkataraman’s spirited Thaniavarthanam (solo percussion performance) brought the item to a memorable end. A feisty rendition of English Note (made famous by the legendary Madurai Mani Iyer) and a soulful version of Raghupathi Raghava Raja Ram left the audience in ecstasy.

Dr. Narmadha’s sheer fluidity and ease was perfectly complemented by the crisp notes of Aishu’s creativity. Indeed, it was a true jugalbandhi (duet of two solo musicians)—not just a confluence of north and south, of Hindustani and Carnatic, but also of maturity and youth. It was heartwarming to see Dr. Narmadha’s hearty appreciation and encouragement of Aishu; the younger musician held her own in technique and execution. It was the ultimate jugalbandhi of dexterity, erudition, and above all, of an unconditional love for music.

After completing a Bachelor of Arts in performance from Berklee College of Music and a Bachelor of Science in biophysics from Stanford University, Aishu has made the move to Houston to continue her education at Baylor College of Medicine, where she is pursuing a medical degree. With an unbeatable combination of beauty, brains, talent, and a passion for giving back to the community, Aishwarya Venkataraman is a welcome addition to the classical arts scene in Houston. We look forward to many more engaging performances from this talented musician.