As violinist duo Ganesh and Kumaresh engage in a fierce duet, Florian Willeitner keenly observes them. The 28-year-old German violinist then bends down from his chair at Goethe auditorium to make a few adjustments on the sheets of music lying haphazardly at his feet. For the past week, the trio has been rehearsing for their upcoming concert: Classical Strings, presented by Goethe-Institut in collaboration with Rotary Club of Madras East.
And what can we expect from their performance? “Music,” replies Kumaresh in a deadpan voice, to titters from the other two. Breaking into a smile, he then relents, “It’s about different cultures of music: Carnatic and Western coming together.”
The concert is set to be a cross-cultural collaboration of Indian and Western classical instrumental music, using the violin as the meeting point. The same instrument with the same seven notes, “tuned differently, learnt differently, and played differently,” says Kumaresh, will result in different dialects of one language. The trio will be performing a few original compositions, born out of them playing off each other, while others may be improvisations of well-known Classical pieces. “Say, we may start with Bach, and then move into a Carnatic piece and then go back to Bach,” he says.
A musical exchange
“Carnatic music is like a whole new universe to me,” says Florian, who arranges Western Classical, jazz, pop and folk music. He has been travelling around the world for the past year, experimenting with different indigenous styles of music. Everything Carnatic fascinates Florian: right down to the violin holder Ganesh has fashioned out of a mic stand, for an easier play.
He studiously takes recordings of Kumaresh’s singing, replete with gamakas. (“Swa-ra-Ra-ga-Su-dha,” Kumaresh enunciates into Florian’s phone recorder. “In raga Shankarabharanam and adi tala. It will take too long to type for you.”) “The idea is not for me to learn Carnatic music, but to pick up elements that I can take and improvise on,” says Florian. Similarly, says Kumaresh, “What we play will always be Carnatic, as long as it is set in raga and tala. Carnatic music does not have any limits.”
The trio will be accompanied by Anantha R Krishnan on mridangam and Krishnaswamy on the ghatam. “Percussion is the train track running beneath our music. Only if the tracks are laid properly, will the train go smoothly, the music can travel beautifully,” says Ganesh, adding, “It is strange to Western Classical musicians because they don’t play against percussion.”
Even how they hold the violin is different. Says Florian, “We are taught to stand up straight, hold the fiddle high and use a lot of power,” he demonstrates with a resonating trill. On the other hand, points out Kumaresh, “In most Indian music, the strings and the fingerboard have to be much closer.”
And it is this versatility of the violin that fascinates the three. Florian ditches the bow, and starts strumming his violin, scatting to it, and playing muted chords, like a ukulele — a tad unusual perhaps? “What is usual?” he shrugs.
Classical Strings: Violinkonzert will be held at The Music Academy, TTK Road, on November 1, from 7 pm.