Review of PRAYAG
By Prof. Kartik Balachandran
Indian classical music enthusiasts were treated to an amazing and unique virtuosic musical jugalbandi, or duet performance entitled PRAYAG, by Vidushi Nirmala Rajashekar on the veena and Pandit Tarun Bhattacharya on the santoor. Teaming up together for the first time ever in Bentonville, Nirmala and Tarun, were ably supported by Vidwan Murugabhoopathi on the Mridangam and Vidwan Hindole Majumdar on the Tabla.
The veena is an ancient plucked string instrument, akin to a lute, which has been referenced in ancient Indian Vedic texts dating as far back as 800 BCE. Its tonal quality is said to mimic the range and sound of the humming human singer. The santoor, on the other hand, is a hammered dulcimer, comprising more than 100 main and sympathetic strings; all these strings combining to create a rich tapestry of music whenever any note is played. Both the veena and santoor truly blended together beautifully, perfectly complementing each other, with the smooth glides of the veena notes weaving together seamlessly with the delicate tones of the santoor.
The group started with an alaap in the raga Hamsadhwani, a very popular major pentatonic scale in both Carnatic and Hindustani music traditions. The alaap was followed by a taanam or jod, a rhythmic improvisation in the same raga that is considered especially suited for the veena. The musical composition that followed was Vatapi Ganapatim Bhajeham, a popular Carnatic music composition. The artistes added their own flair and improvisation to the song and wowed the crowd with spontaneous bursts of fast paced notes culminating in a climatic finale where all instruments came together with a bang. The Hamsadhwani piece was followed by a percussion solo between the mridangam and the tabla. Murugabhoopathi and Hindole demonstrated deft exchanges of rhythmic phrases and passages with lightning quick changes in meter and speed. The concert concluded with a rendition of the famous bhajan Vaishnava Janato composed by Narsinh Mehta, which was eagerly appreciated by the audience.
Overall, the team captivated the audience from start to finish, and no one really wanted the concert to end. It was clear that all the artistes on stage were enjoying themselves, playing as one, while presenting their sublime skills to music lovers in Northwest Arkansas. We were indeed lucky to be presented with such a treat!