Pathways of the piano
On the eve of his collaborative tribute to mandolin maestro, U Shrinivas, classical-contemporary pianist Anil Srinivasan
shares how musical collaborations breathe new life and depth into his compositions
For over a decade now, a Chennai-based classical-contemporary pianist has chronicled an interesting, experimental and most importantly, dogged story in music that has earned him a committed audience, reputation and top-of-mind recall.
In that story, the piano plays the lead role; its journey has been varied and versatile, allowing itself to be placed in contexts and experiment with ideas and artistes from an array of genres — dance, music, theatre, cinema — earning for itself, recognition as an instrument with an abundance of potential and possibilities.
The pioneering spirit behind that endeavour is Anil Srinivasan, who readies to be a part of yet another collaborative performance titled, Strings in the Wind. Sharing stage with U Rajesh (mandolin), Rakesh Chaurasia (flute) and Satyajit Talwalkar (tabla), this concert is a special tribute concert to mandolin maestro, Mandolin U Shrinivas, who passed away exactly a year ago.
Excerpts from an interview:
Q. Are you excited about your performance in Mumbai? When were you last here?
A. I am extremely excited about being in Mumbai. I was here in June, for a session on the work I do with schools for the Mumbai Local series, and we had a great turnout (especially the number of children!). This, of course, is more “serious” and I’m looking forward to it.
Q. Your performance at the NCPA is a coming together of the mandolin, flute and the piano; how did this idea happen?
A. It started as a conversation between U Rajesh and me, about commemorating the genius of (Mandolin) U Shrinivas, who passed away exactly a year ago. We felt that we needed to do something special for this, outside of Chennai, and in a way that will best capture the spirit of his music, to the best of our ability — the zest, the dynamic range and spirit for improvisation that he epitomised. We wanted to kick start something interesting, and so this collaborative effort came about. Rakesh ji and Satyajit ji are fabulous musicians, and friends — and were our local family as far as Mumbai goes. Dr Suvarnalata Rao and her team at NCPA have been most facilitative of this idea from the outset.
Q. How do collaborations work at large?
A. All music is collaborative, from time immemorial. At its best, it involves communing with your own inner spirit, and finding resonance in the music making of others. Today, it is almost impossible to create a piece of music that will resonate with any audience without creatively communing with others — most output we see on both, traditional and new media embody this idea in every way. The latter has also paved the way for out-of-the-box thinking, and all of us are working hard at creating something fresh despite our training or natural orientation. Some of them work, and many do not. Rajesh and I have been working together for 15 years, and are close friends, which to me is the basis of any great collaborative idea. Rakesh knows both of us extremely well — both of us have performed and recorded with him extensively. Satyajit ji and I shared stage for an unforgettable concert, not so long ago. So, in a way, all of us are familiar with the way the other works. Without this basis and the camaraderie, it will be hard to stay true to the spirit of a collaborative concert such as this.
Q. As an artiste, what do these collaborations do for your music?
A. Every collaboration has taught me something I don’t know about myself; a limitation that I work hard to correct. It has taught me how vast and diverse the world is, and how much each of us are in search of that particular something that defines us, our work, and our art. Working with U Shrinivas made me aware of how little my understanding of certain aspects of Carnatic music was, despite my upbringing. I worked last year with a Hip-Hop artiste from Germany, whose control and fluidity on stage was a lesson to me in stage presence. Working with Mahesh Dattani for a play, earlier this year, has taught me about visualising and contextualising music. The list is endless.
On: October 23, 7 pm onwards;
At: Experimental Theatre, NCPA, Nariman Point.
Touch is a dedication to my instrument, and all that it has taught me in this past decade. I’ve learnt to experiment and play different styles on it, and I try to present as many of them through each customised track. I have played Kollywood-inspired percussive piano, I’ve also presented the classical. I look forward to touring with it through November. It has already featured in a festival in the UK, and in Hyderabad. Chennai saw a mock premiere already, to an audience that is used to me. I take it to Delhi and Bangalore next. Touch releases online on November 1. I hope to bring it to Mumbai soon!