"Think of me always," was Balamurali's parting line to the full house at Fort High School grounds in Bangalore. His first ever concert for the Ramanavami festival was in 1958, and then he kept coming regularly till 1984, the year he announced he would withdraw from public concerts and devote his time to research. His long association with Sree Rama Seva Mandali prompted him to describe himself as "an old boy" at this institution.
The sky was overcast, but it did not rain on Sunday, May 19, when Balamurali received the second SVN Rao national award. The audience in the pandal comprised mostly longstanding admirers of Balamurali, some mediapeople, including, as this reporter noticed, a photographer from some "upmarket" paper who kept sniggering at the proceedings. But for regulars to the Ramanavami festival, the evening was clearly a high point in their listening careers. When it was the singer's turn to speak, he said, "I never search for notes, but now I search for words to express my feelings".
U R Rao, the former ISRO chief who now heads Prasar Bharati, was the chief guest. On stage, he replied to Balamurali's behind-the-scenes remark that classical music was not being given enough time on Doordarshan. "We can't give prime time to classical music because that's the only time that brings in revenue," he said.
S V Narayanaswamy Rao was the man who co-ordinated the famous Ramanavami music festival for over half a century. After his passing away, music lovers have instituted an award in his name. The first SVN Rao national award was presented to M S Subbulakshmi last year. Balamuralikrishna received the second award on 19 May.
In 1962, one of the Samiti members recalled, Balamurali had to sing but the scheduled violinist failed to arrive from Madras. For some reason Chowdaiah, who was in town, did not come either. Arunachalappa was then invited to stand in, and he played the harmonium with Balamurali's singing. On the organisers' request, Balamurali sang the number he had sung that night four decades ago, Pibare Ramarasam. And he got a standing ovation. Age hasn't affected his voice.
Balamurali also sang a Telugu composition in which he thanked his gurus, tracing their line right back to Thyagaraja. S N Chandrashekhar, music critic, said Balamurali had continued the tradition of Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar and G N Balasubramaniam, who had with ther musical charisma taken classical music to youth audiences. Balamurali later recalled that he had accompanied them on the violin at several concerts, and learnt a lot from that experience. He also spoke about his experiments in singing with accompaniments as diverse as the veena and the flute.
Sree Rama Mandali has been an inseparable part of Bangalore's cultural life, bringing on its stage all the greats of Karnatak music. Veena Doreswamy Iyengar played at this venue for 51 years. Yesudas is another regular. Balamurali had announced at this very venue in 1984 that he would no longer sing in public, but at this felicitation, he promised to return for a concert next year.
C S Kedar, bureaucrat and music lover, released the music albums Triveni and Sangam. He said it was his duty to thank Balamurali, who had composed tunes for several Kannada compositions by the Haridasas, and sung them to audiences across the globe.
Triveni is a Balamurali tape, with compositions like Devadideva Sri Vasudeva (Mysore Vasudevacharya) and Endaro Mahanubhavulu (Thyagaraja), culled from a live concert two years ago. The other album features the sax of Kadri Gopalnath and the clarinet of Narasimhalu Wadvati. Both artistes hail from Karnataka, and while Kadri plays in the south Indian style, Wadvati plays in the Hindustani style. Their album is again compiled from a live concert, where they mainly played raga Revati and the corresponding Bairagi Bhairav. Tejeshwari, who represents Symphony of Culture (the group that had organised the live concerts), offered a memento to Balamurali. Magnasound is distributing these albums under its label.
Posted on 20 May
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