India’s violin icon L. Subramaniam says music can change a lot of things, and even offers his help to better the humanitarian crises in Sri Lanka, from where his family fled to escape the anti-Tamil riots in the 1950s.
“The diplomatic situation has improved but the real situation, what is happening there on the ground, is not what we are reading (in newspapers). People are still missing. Whatever has happened has happened, but there should be equality between human beings, respect for one another,” he said.
“I hope there will be better understanding and anything I can do in that direction, I will help,” Subramaniam on the sidelines of the Amaravati Global Music and Dance Festival where he collaborated with the Kazakh State Philharmonic Orchestra. He was also the Artistic Director of the gala.
Celebrated for his work with maestros Yehudi Menuhin, Stephane Grappelli, Ruggiero Ricci and Jean-Pierre Rampal, the Grammy-nominated artiste and Padma Bhushan awardee recalled his younger days when he trained in the violin in the Carnatic style under the tutelage of his father, V. Lakshminarayana, an accomplished musician.
His debut, as a performer, was at a festival in Jaffna, at the age of six.
Subramaniam, hailed as creator of the global fusion concept, became emotional as he narrated how music kept the family going in the aftermath of the ethnic cleansing turbulence in the island nation.
“My father was a visiting professor there. In 1956, the anti-Tamil pogrom started in Jaffna and riots broke out. We all escaped and came back to Madras (now Chennai) in 1958 and started life afresh. What kept us going was music. Father used to say there may not be food, no place, but music will keep us going. There was some kind of a divine guidance,” he observed.
For the medical doctor-turned-professional violinist, creativity is the key to understand and apply permutations and combinations to musical compositions. And at a later stage, the 69-year-old said, comes the spiritual connect.
This is what, he feels, binds even diplomatic rivals together, even for a fleeting second.
“At the time when I played at the UN, there were representatives of different countries, some of whom didn’t see eye-to-eye. But when music was played, everybody cheered up and talked to each other and smiled at one another. They forgot they were enemies. Music can change a lot of things and there is a spiritual undercurrent,” he explained.
Subramaniam moved to California in the early 1970s to pursue a master’s degree in Western Classical Music.
His laurels of distinctions in Western violin studies and understanding of Western technique, with his solid Carnatic background, reflects in the genre of orchestral writing pioneered by him.
The virtuoso, married to playback singer Kavitha Krishnamurthy, has an extensive oeuvre of over 200 recordings.
He has also lent his expertise to film scores for “Salaam Bombay” (1988) and “Mississippi Masala” (1991) directed by Mira Nair. He has featured as a violin soloist in Bernardo Bertolucci’s “Little Buddha”.
Admitting that working on films does not attract him, Subramaniam said he was requested by auteur Satyajit Ray, a frequent visitor to his concerts, to do so.
“He told me, ‘I saw Salaam Bombay’ and it’s my favourite soundtrack, so why don’t you do more films’? I told him ‘Sir, it’s not my field.’ If he had asked me (to work in his film), that would have been a different thing. That would have been something phenomenal,” he responded when asked on whether he would have assented to do a Ray film.
Busy with writing music for the 70th year of India’s Independence, Subramaniam wishes to develop a centre of excellence in classical music.
He credits the recognition of Indian music as a classical form to Menuhin.
“He was a very rare personality. Our friendship became very strong over the years as we travelled together and played together. He was the first Westerner who recognised Indian music as a classical system,” Subramaniam signed-off with pride.