Tell us about your string quartet. Do you practise and perform regularly? Can you tell us a little about each musician?
The Madras String Quartet was formed in 1993. Its members are V R Sekar (cellist), B J Chandran (viola), K Murali (violin) and myself. We are all professional musicians, earning our livelihood in the film industry.
I enjoyed the experience of doing chamber music (Western) with my colleagues way back in the early 1960s. We met every Sunday to practise. The group was christened Madras Chamber Orchestra and I was leading it. We performed with many visiting artistes from the UK, Germany and the USA. We also took up opportunities to participate in their master classes. After many years, there was what one could term a crisis in the film-industry, and this led to the unfortunate disbanding of the group.
But due to our continued love and passion for chamber music, Sekar and I thought of forming a string quartet. The talented young violinist Chandran readily switched to the viola (though he is a violinist), and to form a quartet. Murali was also roped in. Thus the Madras String Quartet was born.
We keep Sunday as a regular meeting day for the joy of making music! We perform regularly and recording the album Resonance has been very rewarding.
About each of
I learnt the violin (Karnatak music) at a very early age from my father V Sreenivasa Iyengar, a gottuvadyam vidwan. I accompanied him at his gottuvadyam concerts at many places in Karnataka. As a boy, I happened to play in film recording sessions in Mysore and Madras, and later took this up as a profession. I was also introduced to the Western violin and studied with Adrian L'Armand (of Australia).
V R Sekar, son of
the famous violinist Kunnakkudi R Vaidyanathan, took his initial music lessons
on the violin in the Karnatak style. Later, he became fascinated with
the warm sound of the cello and picked it up as his instrument.
Though he initially studied with cellist Michael Rozario,
Sekar is essentially self-taught. Currently, he is one of the most
sought-after cellists in India.
B J Chandran is the son of veteran violinist Bhadram, who
hails from Andhra Pradesh. He is an extremely talented violinist who
switched to the viola for the sake of the quartet,
and his musical expertise made the transition smooth. Though Chandran studied with
a few teachers in Madras, he is also largely self-taught and
has carved a niche for himself in the film music industry.
K Murali is
the son of Krishna of Krishna-Chakra, music director duo. He studied violin at an
early age and has always been a
hard worker. He contributed a great deal to the MSQ until he resigned,
after the completion of Resonance.
P Mohan Rao is
the son of violinist Narasinga Rao, and took the place vacated
by his brother-in-law. Mohan is a talented young violinist who is
busy in films.
Who thought of the idea of
playing traditional Karnatak compositions against a background of
a violinist in films, I was also interested in the theory of
Western Music. When I bought my Yamaha QY20 sequencer, I started working
on various versions of Rara venu gopabala. They
sounded good! This gave rise to the idea of playing traditional
Karnatak music compositions against a background of Western
Who composed the Western score? Did you
have some practice sessions before you recorded this album? Where
did you record it and was it done at one go, on one day, or over a
couple of days?
With my experience in the
study of harmony, I arranged the pieces chosen for the string quartet.
We had practice sessions spread over three months before the recording of
the album. Balaraman recorded it at VGP Studios in Madras over
How come the tape is released by a New
York company and distributed by a Delhi company? Who is Rangasamy
Parthasarathy and how did he come into the
Rangasamy Parthasarathy is an old time
music director, an old friend of mine and proprietor and chairman of
Oriental Records. In November 1999, when he told me that he wanted
to do a unique project, I suggested what I had in mind. He said he
liked the idea and agreed to produce and market it.
Thus Resonance was brought out on CD and
Were you in any way inspired by Ilaiyaraja's
experiments in albums like 'How to Name it' and 'Nothing But Wind'?
He has composed Western harmonies for 'Tulasi dalamula' in raga
Mayalavagoula, and also used Indian ragas like Malkauns/Hindola in
his thematic compositions.
known Ilaiyaraja as a guitarist, even before the beginning of his
career as a film composer. I played the solo violin parts in his
albums How to Name it and Nothing But Wind. I
was certainly inspired by those previous projects, but I saw the
potential in Resonance to be even more revolutionary
in terms of the dualism brought about by combining Indian and Western
harmonies in this particular fashion.
Have you heard
of Chitravina Ravikiran's idea of melharmony, where musicians stick
to the grammatical rules governing a raga even when they create
harmonies? We notice that you have created minor-chord
harmonies for a predominantly major scale raga like Yaman Kalyani
(Krishna nee begane baaro). What principles did you go by when you
wrote the score?
I have not listened to Chitravina
Ravikiran's work. I have simply followed the basic principles of
harmony in arranging the pieces.
Are there some ragas
for which you can compose harmonies easily, and some which turn out
more difficult? Would it be correct to say that sampoorna ragas like
Shankarabharanam offer greater harmonic possibilities than a more
complicated sampoorna oudhava raga like Saramati? How did you select
the compositions for this album? Did you consciously choose a mix of
slow and fast tempo compositions?
Yes. There are
certain ragas that give in easily to the treatment of harmonizing
and some don't. It all depends on one's understanding of the music
systems one deals with. I did choose the pieces with the idea of
having a variety of tempos and moods.
restraint and seriousness even to fast compositions like Shara
shara samarai and Raghuvamsa
sutha , which musicians usually use to show off
their speed. You play each composition with deeply felt emotion,
expressed through very sensitive nuances. Tell us how you felt when
you recorded this album. Was it personally
was very challenging when I began to write the arrangements. At
times it was frustrating not being able to execute what I wanted. For many
weeks I did my work of arranging the music with a
passionate focus. When we tried out the arrangements live for the first
time, my joy knew no bounds! It gave me immense satisfaction. I
am very proud of my colleagues for their intense hard
work on this album. Again, one must understand that doing something new
within the confines of Indian and Western music is difficult.
Resonance combines and does something entirely new with two
music systems that have each been around for thousands of years, and
I feel that this revolutionary aspect is what lends this project
reviews in Western classical music journals? Do you plan to do more
such recordings? How does the Indian market receive efforts like
The response has been very good in spite of poor marketing. We have received very encouraging appreciation from many well-known musicians abroad, like David Balakrishnan, founder member of the Turtle Island
String Quartet. I am very eager to continue such work as it is very satisfying!
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