Brothers and Carnatic music exponents Vidwan Ganesh and Kumaresh discuss key to performing together for 50 years
Vidwan Ganesh (left) and Vidwan Kumaresh (right), who were child prodigies, have performed as violinists with renowned musicians Ustad Zakir Hussain, Dr Balamuralikrishna, AR Rahman, MS Gopalakrishnan and Isaignani Ilayaraja among others
Imagine completing 100 stage performances before the age of 10. Sounds astounding, but child prodigies Vidwan Ganesh and Vidwan Kumaresh did not have the childhood we know. The Carnatic duo began their musical training at home at the age of three and two years respectively, under the guidance of their father TS Rajagopalan who taught music to children in Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh. “There have been so many concerts we can’t remember, and gave up counting after 15 or 20 years [in the industry],” says Kumaresh, the younger of the two.
Earlier this month, Ganesh, 57, and Kumaresh, 55, performed at the Mumbai Margazhi Mahotsavam to celebrate 50 years of playing together. Last fortnight, this writer saw Ganesh, play live at the 50th anniversary of Shakti, the legendary Indo-jazz fusion band during their Mumbai-leg of the tour. Seeing him on stage, one could say that he was indeed a violin maestro with the way he captivated the crowd during his solo. Over almost half a century of performing, the duo has won many accolades such as the Sangeet Natak Akademi Awards 2018–the highest national recognition for performance artistes, among many more.
The violin came naturally to them, they say. “Childhood impressions are very strong,” says Kumaresh over the telephone. “If you are exposed to something as deep and beautiful as music, it helps us stay rooted and sustains us through our distractive years.” They measure their career graph not by the number of shows performed, but instead, by their journey. “For us, more than the numbers, it was the experience of performances, interacting with legendary musicians and connoisseurs and reading insightful books on music.”
As younger musicians back in the day, the child prodigies considered themselves “lucky and fortunate that senior musicians were accommodating and interacted with us,” says Ganesh. “They also told us how their seniors would perform, how the conversation used to be, how to interact with people, connoisseurs, how to have stage interaction” adds the older sibling. “Besides performance related guidance, we learnt the cultural aspects.” Now, when it’s their turn to share the stage with a younger musician, they try to keep the interaction brotherly.
With bands splitting up and people preferring to go solo, the two have managed to stick together. “The professional bond is very tough, unless there is a personal bond,” says Ganesh.
Most people assume that the violin is a western instrument, as did this writer. “The violin is actually an Indian instrument,” clarifies Kumaresh, “It’s called dhanush veena as you play it with a hand. Many sculptures in Indian temples show an instrument which resembles the violin. According to literature, Marco Polo took the instrument from India to the West in the 14th century.”
When differentiating between the Indian and the Western violin, Kumaresh, who is also known to redefine the teaching methods of the instrument, explains, “We sit and play [the violin] in padmasana and there is science behind it,” he says. “It creates the right channel from the Kundalini [divine energy at the base of the spine] to flow comfortably through the seven chakras and energise the body and the aura.”
The duo does not label their music classical as it’s not “period music”. “If we say classical, you confine it to a period. Our music is a present as today and as old as vedic times. The more you play, the more you unravel.”
When they are not performing, they spend time with their families. “We watch movies, catch a concert by our contemporaries and even meditate,” says Ganesh. Kumaresh, on the other hand, loves to drive and explore new places with his wife, Dr Jayanthi Kumaresh, a veena maestro. “I also read books, write, watch movies and love to do nothing. Sometimes I just keep the TV on and sit,” he smiles.
Currently, the two are creating new ragas and compositions; new music specifically meant for the violin, expanding the base of Indian music and making it more accessible. They are also trying to increase the base of the audience and rebuild the entire curriculum.