Harihara: Songs of Oothukadu and Gopalakrishna Bharati by Varija Menon and Aditi Gopinathan

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On Saturday, a friend and I attended Harihara: Songs of Oothukadu and Gopalakrishna Bharati by Varija Menon and Aditi Gopinathan accompanied by S. Selvapandian on mridangam and Ghanavenothan Retnam on flute, a beautiful and rejuvenating performance staged as part of the Esplanade’s ongoing Carnatic Composers series of concerts. These performances explore the rich diversity of Carnatic music and the composers who have defined the genre, from the 16th to the 21st centuries.

Harihara presented a series of compositions by Oothukadu Venkata Kavi, whose work I am familiar with, and Gopalakrishna Bharati, whose work I am less familiar with. The artists presented nearly a dozen devotional works, in praise of Krishna and Shiva respectively, by these two artists, with little break in-between numbers. And while I know quite a bit about Carnatic music generally, I would have appreciated more information from the emcee regarding the specific kritis performed that evening or, at the least, a program outlining the ragas and talas. The concert was very much for connoisseurs of the genre who could, for example, follow a complex composition in tala Mishra Atam, an eighteen beat cycle, with little introduction or scaffolding.

Menon and her mother, Gopinathan, were dazzling, no doubt, and their voices were absolutely perfect. I was also particularly taken with Selvapandian whose mastery of a number of percussion instruments, including the mridangam and the kanjira, a South Indian frame drum of the tambourine family, was on display here.

The Carnatic Composers series continues in September with Songs of Prilgrimage: The Music of Muthuswami Dikshitar by Sai Vigneshwar, Sudarshan Narasimhan, and Nishanth Thiagarajan.