Strings Attached: When Veena Met Violin
“I wake up believing that each day is full of new possibilities and opportunities – to explore and create something new”.
The first few rays of morning light peek through the window as Jayanthi lifts the kudam of her veena with the tender care one would employ when picking up a child. Her day begins by basking in the instrument’s meditative lilt, her fingers fleeting across the frets with the agility of a water strider skipping across a pond. “There are two types of practices – mental and physical” she begins in a tone as gentle as the notes she produces, “the physical practice establishes the connect between thought and action. But mental practice is the constant thread that is always coming up with creative ideas – my time is spent between these two practices”.
For Veena virtuoso Jayanthi Kumaresh, practice began at the tender age of three under her first guru – her mother Smt. Lalgudi Rajalakshmi. However, it was her aunt Padmavathy Ananthagopalan who would instil in her an intense appreciation for the Saraswati Veena. “Smt. Padmavathy Ananthagopalan created and sustained my reverence for this beautiful instrument, when I come from a family replete with violinists for the last six generations” she smiles, “and my mentor Dr. S. Balachander introduced me to the real versatility of the instrument. He made me realize that if something cannot be played on the veena, it’s only the limitation of the player and not the instrument.” Her other mentors include violin legend Shri. Lalgudi G. Jayaraman – also Jayanthi’s maternal uncle – and her husband violin maestro Shri. R. Kumaresh. “My husband has been instrumental in making me push my musical boundaries and reach new heights” says Jayanthi with affection.
Together, the renowned duo have performed across the country and are currently preparing for a rather special performance on March 4th at the landmark Hong Kong Arts Festival. The festival – now in its 44th edition – celebrates local and international art forms of all colours and creeds, from opera to theatre, music to dance, seeing world renowned names like Buena Vista Social Club performing at this year’s edition. “We will be presenting a concert entitled Strings Attached, exploring the world of Carnatic Music as a conversation between the Violin and Veena” Jayanthi explained. Jayanthi was handpicked to perform at the prestigious event in Hong Kong after the Associate Programme Director for the festival So kwok-wan heard her perform at the IndiEarth XChange. “Performing at IndiEarth XChange was a refreshing experience for me” she recalls, “It’s a unique event because it’s a fertile ground to nourish new ideas, an opportunity to promote and encourage new thoughts, and a wonderful platform for world media to take a look at such abundant talent in the country”.
As part of her showcase in Hong Kong, Jayanthi will also be performing with sitarist Anupama Bhagwat in a unique coming together of two Classical traditions – “My second concert is a Jugalbandhi with Mrs. Anupama Bhagwat – a window into juxtaposing the Carnatic and Hindustani style of music. We are hoping that the concerts will give the audience an opportunity to learn more about this 2000 year old tradition of Indian music across multiple mediums – Violin, Veena and Sitar”. However, in a quickly changing modern cultural landscape, and an entertainment industry that today is driven largely by youth culture, mass audiences and the pursuit of profit margins – where do these 2000 year old traditions fit in?
According to Jayanthi, this atmosphere makes the preservation of the Classical arts all the more urgent. “Art has always evolved with the social economics and historical state of the country – so the art of each period represents the ethos, practices, thinking and intellectual expressions of each age” she begins, “The history of the Veena is over 2000 years old and its evolution coincides with the evolution of mankind – from the days when the instrument’s resonator was made with a human skull, to the modern era digital Veena. We need to preserve this art form, now more than ever, as it is a reference point for us to see how we were, where we are going and where we could be. It connects us to our roots and helps us take a step back from the fast-paced modern lifestyle – to take a moment to remember the daily importance of also enriching the mind and soul”.