Friday, April 13, 2012

Germany Recap... Tour Musings Part 1

Ideally, I should have been posting my thoughts and feelings after each concert instead of just the song-lists, but somehow I never thought to put it down in words until now. Rather than going back and commenting on each concert, I thought I'd just share some of the highlights so far, as I remember them...

Germany Concert Schedule:
Mar 10 - Bielefeld
Mar 11 - Baden Baden
Mar 15 - Munich
Mar 17 - Frankfurt
Mar 18 - Miltenberg

Our tour started over a month ago in Germany, where we arrived in Frankfurt on Mar 9th. It was my first time in Germany, so I was excited to see the country but also a bit unsure what the listeners might be like, or how to structure my concerts for German audiences. Our first two concerts in Germany were in churches. Beautiful locations with fantastic natural acoustics, but no heating! Luckily these concerts were only 1.5 hours long, but I definitely wore socks and had a shawl on my lap to keep me warm. Unfortunately my violinist, Mysore Srikanth, and mrudangist, Neyveli Venkatesh couldn't do anything to keep their fingers and toes warm through the concert. Srikanth tried many tactics, such as having a cup of hot water with him on stage, or asking the organizers to turn up the heat. We found more often that there was little or no heating in these churches, and the audiences knew to keep their jackets on throughout. During the intermissions we would stand over small heating vents in the green room and run our fingers under hot water, not to mention the countless cups of hot tea we went through before and during the concerts. The irony was that just a couple hundred feet from our concert venue in Baden Baden was some of the famous natural hot springs that tourists flock to throughout the year. There aren't any Carnatic concerts held in hot springs though. However the setting of the churches, and the acoustics in the hall made the freezing temperatures bearable!

Following these two concerts was a concert in the Volkerkunde Museum in Munich. This was a nice auditorium with central heating. This concert, as well as the first two, was recorded for future radio broadcasts, so we needed to arrive quite early to make sure the mics were all set up okay for the recording purposes. We had no monitors or feedback of sound in these concerts, but the intimate settings made up for it, and we were able to sing with the natural sound balance for the 1-2 hour durations.

During the week, we stayed in the German countryside with our fabulous host (and kanjira artist for our concerts) Herbert Lange, in his family's home in Adelsheim. He and his mother showed us great hospitality and we had a chance to walk around and see a very different side of the country not seen by tourists. Authentic farmland, a stream running through the backyard, forest hills for our morning walks, all of this and more made our stay unforgettable. I almost forgot, we saw a great music shop in Frankfurt where they had a tambura made from a Church organ pipe! Srikanth-ji and I were amazed at the sound and resonance of this instrument. Unfortunately its size made it difficult for us to take with us!

Our fourth concert in Frankfurt was at the residence of two journalists who have previously organized concerts of some great artists such as my guru Sri Sanjay Subrahmanyan, and they had also hosted the concert of Sri GJR Krishnan in the same venue where I was to sing. Upon entry, myself and my artists were in awe of the book collection in this house. Almost every single wall was covered with bookshelves filled with books, some even on Indian classical music. I feared that this 2nd story apartment would collapse into the 1st floor at any moment, given the weight of the books. Neyveli Venkatesh was seated at the bottom of one of these towering bookshelves, and we verified periodically that it was safely mounted and not about to topple over onto him! This was an enjoyable concert as the audience sat on the floor in front of us, and in chairs just a few feet away. They seemed to be frozen for 1hr15min. I chose to sing a new thillana that I had just learned the day before, in ragam Hamsanandhi composed by Harikesanallur Muthiah Bhagavathar (I'm told). I had practiced it once with Srikanth-ji and Venkatesh-ji the day before, but we still had a lot of fun with it on stage, going through its many rhythmic sangathis and patterns (I sang this in Los Angeles as well, and it can be viewed here). Afterward all of us had a really great feeling that we had tried new things and they went over well. There were even some percussionists in the audience who seemed to enjoy the thillana, and followed along with the tisram/chatusram nadai variations at the end. Surprisingly, our audiences in every venue were 99.9% German, and there were little or no Indians in the audiences. It made for a difference experience, but an enjoyable one nonetheless.

Our German tour of 5 concerts in 9 days came to a close on Sunday the 18th with a concert in Miltenberg*. This was an absolutely stunning city, being one of the few to not have been torn down by the war, and still have the real stone roads and old German architectural facades. Our concert was in a yoga studio located in a plaza which I swear could have easily been featured in National Lampoon's European Vacation with Chevy Chase.

*I forgot to mention that we were told our concert was the very first Carnatic concert ever happening in Miltenberg! Truly an honor for us.

Srikanth-ji and I stayed an extra day in Frankfurt after this, but Venkatesh-ji had to return to Chennai to switch out his mrudangams and prepare for the US tour that was to follow. Although it was quite cold, it was nice to walk around and see Frankfurt without too many tourists. We insisted on enjoying the river-side cafe's despite the weather, and even climbed up 600 steps in an old church to get a bird's eye view of the city.

All in all, a fantastic experience with great artists, and a grand kick-off to our tour.

I will write again soon with some of our experiences from the North American tour...(Currently in Toronto, only 1/3 the way through the North America concerts!).


  1. Excellent concert in Toronto. Look forward to hearing more about the rest of your N. American tour. Enjoyed reading about your performances in Germany. We don't hear enough about carnatic music in Europe...


  2. thank you! We had a great time.