24-hour Veena festival in Chicago

May 17, 2014

Sounds of Infinity: A historic veena festival in Chicago… what a grand festival that was! 80 veenas, 200 participants and over 24 hours of incessant veena sounds later, the town is immersed and swathed in the veena universe. Sri Annamacharya Project of North America (SAPNA) once again raised a toast to the veena while showcasing her grandeur at the Sixth International Veena Festival held in the Hindu Temple of Greater Chicago on May 10 and 11.

The program commenced on May 10 with the customary lighting of the lamp and Vedam chanting. Strains of the veena in Hamsadhwani raagam flowed majestically to commence the 24-hour infinite music. All the Chicagoland veena schools - Rajaveena School, Rama Music Academy, Pallavi School, Ensemble of Ragas collaborating with Pratibha School of percussion - rendered the veena festival colorful with their outstanding contributions to the Raaga Darshanam concerts. The infectious enthusiasm of several students from participating schools was palpable all through the day. The programs were arranged in such a way that the sound of the veena did not cease – there was always the strumming of the strings between concerts, during concert, and at set up time.

Saturday evening featured ‘Vallaki Vilasam,’ a menagerie of veenas conceptualized and arranged by Chicago veena artiste Saraswathi Ranganathan. The performance was a beautiful confluence of music from Saraswathi Veena, Surbahaar/Sitar, Santoor, Guitar. Traditionally, these instruments have been described as belonging to the veena family: Saptatantri Veena (Sitar / Surbahaar), Shatatantri Veena (santoor), Chaturtantri Veena (Guitar) and of course, the Saraswathi Veena. The raga chosen for the event was Bhimplaasi followed by Paayoji maine and Chitti Babu’s composition Reverie. The beautiful hypnotic meends on surbahaar by Indrajit Banerjee, the delectable tones on santoor by Kunal Gunjal, the soft sweet strums on guitar by Carlo Basile, the melodious passages on veena by Saraswathi Ranganathan lent a mystical aura to the event. The sound mosaic was complete with riveting percussion by Ganapathi Ranganathan on mridangam and Hindole Majumdar on tabla.

The Consul General of India in Chicago who presided over the event, Dr. and Mrs. Sayeed mentioned that “the listeners were transported to a different world altogether” while witnessing this one-of-a-kind presentation. The Sayeeds are avid patrons of art, not to mention the CGI Chicago Office has always been supportive of SAPNA’s artistic endeavors in preserving and promoting Indian classical performing arts. Earlier in the day, it was heartening to listen to the three generations of family veena artistes performing on stage. Rajeswari Pariti, who is keeping alive the Andhra Vizianagaram bani along with her son Ravi Pariti and grandchildren Nitya Pariti and Divya Pariti – truly a blessing to Chicago. Young Arthi Nadhan displayed commendable skill in handling the veena – replete with gamakams in the Thanjavur style of veena playing.

Invited artiste Emani Kalyani Lakshminarayana’s concert was exceptionally good. There was something very special about the way Kalyani handled the veena: she is the only true authentic torch bearer of the Emani style of veena playing. So what is Emani style - It is in the spirit of bringing out the innate versatility of the veena and demonstrating that anything is possible on this instrument. At the concert, one could observe a distinct style of plucking the veena to highlight short notes, western-music like phrases, plain notes, gamakas through glides, contrasting robust and gentle sound effects, energetic and spontaneous outbursts of improvisation.  From “Come September” to “Brocheva” to “Needu Charamule”, the classic Veda recital – a hallmark of Emani style, it was such a treat to listen to this veteran veena artiste. Kalyani’s father, the Late Emani Sankara Sastri was a trailblazer on the veena introducing a novel approach to melody, technique and presenting multiple-genre playing on the veena from classical and Vedam to western and folk. SAPNA was very happy to announce that they are privileged to confer the title ‘Sri Kala Purna’ on Kalyani Lakshminarayana later this year.

Throughout  Saturday night, in an engaging “Veena  Naadam Shringaara Kaavyam” presentation, Chicago veena artistes Rajeswari Pariti and Saraswathi Ranganathan along with enthusiastic audience  participation entertained the audience with renditions of old movie songs in different languages, western notes, Chitti Babu tunes. There was “Natyahela” music and movement with graceful Priya Narayanan on Bharatanatyam, Saraswathi and Ganapathi on veena and mridangam. There was thoughtful poetry recitation “Nisha Gandhi” by Sarada Sonty followed by Suprabhaata Seva the next day at 4am by Rameti group of Chicago. Rama Gurupalli and Jayshri Prasad gave wonderful veena recitals and school showcases Sunday early morning. Young 14-year old Satvik Gurupalli’s energy at 7am was evident in his sparkling presentation of Dr. Chitti Babu’s Thilang Thillana.

The 24-hour marathon came to a conclusion with Veena Naada Neeraajanam and Vedam Chanting. Once again SAPNA with its visionary leaders Saradapurna Sonty and Sriram Sonty, demonstrated their passion and commitment to preserving and promoting Indian classical arts among youth and to the global community. The special 50-page souvenir released on this occasion is not just a visual treat but a great source of information as well, with well-wishing messages from eminent internationally renowned artistes. It is one of SAPNA’s special offerings every veena festival.

After the conclusion of the 24-hour veena fest, May 11 also saw celebration of Hindustani music. Tapan Bhattacharya delivered a traditional Hindustani vocal recital in his stentorian voice to the wonderful accompaniment on tabla by Dhananjay Kunte. Indrajit Banerjee on sitar and surbahaar soaked the audience with his soulful raga aalaps and tumris to the skillful tabla playing of Gourishankar Karmakar. Gundecha Brothers concluded the Hindustani series with their excellent classically melodious presentation.