Gig Review:
London International Arts Festival - Day 2 At Redbridge Town Hall, Ilford, Essex,
Saturday 11th August 2012 & Festival Overview
Dhruv Arts Presents:

London International Arts Festival - Day 2


Redbridge Town Hall
128-142 High Road
Ilford
Essex
IG1 1DD
Saturday 11th August 2012, 3pm & 5.45pm



Featuring (in order of appearance) :


Matinee Concert 3pm:

Shyamala & Hariharan (Carnatic Vocal)
Accompanied by:
Kiruthika Nadarajah - violin
P. Kirupakaran - mridangam

Prakash Sontakke - Indian slide guitar (Hindustani)
Accompanied by:
Hanif Khan - tabla

Compered by DJ Ritu



Evening Concert 5.45pm:

Jyotsna Srikanth Project:
Jyotsna Srikanth - violin
Chris Haigh - Jazz violin
Shadrach Solomon - keyboard
Victor Obsust - double bass
Eleazar - guitar
Karthik Mani - drums
Nish - electronic percussion
Ansuman - world percussion


Dr. M. Balamuralikrishna (Carnatic Vocal)
Accompanied by:
Jyotsna Srikanth - violin
Arjun Kumar - mridangam
R.N. Prakash - ghatam
Sithamparanathan - morsing


Compered by DJ Ritu





         LIAF Poster



Date of Review: 2012/08/13


LIAF Logo
Dhruv Arts Presents:

London International Arts Festival - Day 1 Programme:

Friday 10th August 2012, 3pm & 6.30pm


Matinee Concert 3pm:

Dhruv Ensemble (South Indian Classical Youth Ensemble)
Dir. Jyotsna Srikanth

Carnatica Brothers (South Indian Classical Vocal)
Accompanied by:

Jyotsna Srikanth - violin
Arjun Kumar - mridangam
R.R. Prakash - ghatam

Compered by DJ Ritu



Evening Concert 6.30pm:

Anja McCloskey (Contemp. Folk Music)

Asaf Sirkis Trio (Jazz Fusion)
Asaf Sirkis - drums, percussion
John Turville - keyboards
Jonathan Harvey - bass


Compered by DJ Ritu



London International Arts Festival - Day 3 Programme:

Sunday 12th August 2012, 2pm & 5.30pm


Matinee Concert 2pm:

“Rabindranjali” Dance Ballet, India
Dir. by Dr. Saraswathi Sundaresan
Created by/Choreography Kalaimamani

Suma Sudhindra - tarangini veena (elect. Saraswathi veena) (Carnatic)
Accompanied by:
Arjun Kumar - mridangam
R.N. Prakash - ghatam
Sithamparanathan - morsing


Compered by DJ Ritu



Evening Concert 5.30pm:

Robert Atchison & The Ormesby Ensemble (Western Classical String Trio)
Robert Atchison - violin
Jacqueline Dennett - violin
Naomi Holt - viola

Pushkala Gopal Dance Group (Bharatanatyam Dance)
Dir. & Chor. by Pushkala Gopal

Ozgen (Master Turkish Dancer)

La Internacional Sonora Balkanera (Latin music-meets-Balkan-Beat)


Compered by DJ Ritu
London International Arts Festival - Day 2 At Redbridge Town Hall, Ilford, Essex,
Saturday 11th August 2012 & Festival Overview

As I would only be able to attend one of the three days of the very promising sounding London International Arts Festival, East London's diversity arts festival as it was sub-titled, LIAF for short, I had picked the second day, Saturday. This was on account of wanting to specifically hear the amazing Jyotsna Srikanth and her fusion project with Chris Haigh again, which had so impressed on a previous occasion at Rich Mix earlier this year, and of course the legendary Carnatic singer, Dr. M. Balamuralikrishna. And admittedly, a further consideration was that public transport was going to be much easier on a Saturday and running later.

Did I regret my choice? Not in the slightest, except in ruing missing all the other wonderful acts on the Friday and Sunday! For last Saturday, two acts each were scheduled for the matinee and evening concerts.

Day Two, Saturday - Matinee

The matinee - competing with a band right outside the wonderful Redbridge Town Hall in the middle of Ilford High Street's market and a large screen a little further along purveying events at the Olympics - got under way with the excellent compere for the whole event, the superb broadcaster DJ Ritu, introducing the first performers, Shyamala & Hariharan, a - very - young duo of female and male Carnatic, or South Indian, award-winning singers. They were excellently accompanied by Kiruthika Nadarajah on violin and P. Kirupakaran on mridangam (a two-headed South Indian drum, the analogue of the perhaps better known Hindustani or North Indian pakhawaj), a typical Carnatic ensemble for vocal performances.

Over all, the performance by Shyamala & Hariharan was little short of astounding, especially so for mere sixteen and seventeen year olds. Their improvisations were always fluid and flawless, as far as I could tell, admittedly not being the greatest authority on the Carnatic tradition, as greatly fond of it as I am. (And which differs more greatly from the Hindustani tradition than the latter does, in many respects, from the Persian one. And only in a few rare cases do even Carnatic and Hindustani ragas correspond, even if they may bear the same name!)

There were perhaps a couple of small niggles to be observed with Shyamala & Hariharan's performance. One is that their voice production was a little too nasal, but this could easily be rectified with a little more voice coaching. The other was not of their making. This was that the amplification was extremely excessive for a hall with the kind of acoustics of the Redbridge Town Hall - well able to carry the unamplified voice to the back of the hall - and especially for this kind of intimate music.

However, this was still a captivating performance, worth the price of admission by itself. A brief but illuminating interview with DJ Ritu followed.
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After a brief interval, it was time for the afternoon's headline act, acclaimed Indian slide guitarist Prakash Sontakke with Hanif Khan on tabla, already familiar on this site (see previous review). This was the sole Hindustani classical music act at LIAF.

Now I must confess to always having had somewhat ambiguous feelings about the modification of Western instruments for use in Hindustani music. It somehow always struck me as, well, superfluous - the various families of North Indian instruments seem more than rich enough, and why not develop new ones (as has been happening in the Persian tradition) that suit the tradition better, or use alien instruments in their natural form, as with the violin? (Or, more rarely, the cello, saxophone, clarinet, concert flute...) On the other hand, starting I think with Vishva Mohan Bhatt and his adaptation of the guitar, these adaptations or modifications seem to work - even if the resulting sound often resembles that of an existing Hindustani instrument, particularly the sarod - certainly at the hands of a master musician.

However, all such ambiguities instantly became utterly irrelevant the moment maestro Prakash Sontakke started playing last Saturday. This was one of the very finest Hindustani musicians of, and one of the very finest Hindustani performances by, younger musicians that it has been my pleasure and privilege to hear. And when playing together with maestro Hanif Khan, the two were as one, in greatest empathy, despite never having played together previously.

And just as Sontakke, so Khan took the breath away. One might be tempted perhaps to think of Khan as another young Zakir Hussain, but whatever for when he is already a first class Hanif Khan and not someone else's mere clone!

Sontakke and Khan's performance made one's hair stand on end and send shivers up and down the spine. This was absolutely captivating, totally mesmerising. (And thankfully, the amplification was not quite so excessive as previously even if it could still have benefited from some toning down.)

I was completely enchanted by this breath-taking performance. And this in the afternoon? Surely this ought to have been an evening performance, but of course, the slots are limited and somebody has to perform the matinees.

Thank you LIAF for bringing us Prakash Sontakke! After such a performance, we will gladly even ignore the one or two misconceptions concerning the origins of slide guitar and Hawaian guitar that crept into the interview with Ritu. Anyone with an interest in these would either know already, or else can easily find out elsewhere.

What a matinee! Just amazing. Well done, LIAF.

Day Two, Saturday - Evening Concert

Having attended the wonderful matinee, a slightly greater interval to recuperate from this before the Evening Concert might have been preferable perhaps, but no matter. With so much great music on offer, comfort becomes very much secondary, even insignificant.

Introduced by the festival's compere, broadcaster DJ Ritu, the evening concert started with the amazing Jyotsna Srikanth Project, aka JSP. Apart from super-versatile super-virtuoso Jyotsna Srikanth herself, this featured, as always, jazz violinist/folk fiddler Chris Haigh, plus bassist Victor Obsust, Shadrach Solomon on keys and electronics, Eleazar on guitar, Karthik Mani on traps, Nish on electronic percussion and Ansuman on 'world percussion.' So, an octet this time. But did this add anything over and above the quintet I had previously heard?

Now before going into this or anything else, let me make it very clear that over all, I loved JSP's performance, and especially Ms. Srikanth's breath-taking virtuosity and versatility, and her inventive improvs, as well as Haigh's counterfoil to this. Solomon's keyboard work especially and also Nish's electronic percussion and morsing (aka morching, a kind of Jew's Harp, or Jaw's Harp, an - Indian here - oral percussion instrument) stood out also. Obsust's bass was solid, if perhaps a little folkish now and again. The range and quality of repertoire was also breath-taking, although one or two pieces somehow sounded 'dangerously' close to, if they weren't actually, L. Subramaniam material. Subramaniam is, undoubtedly, unquestionably, a great virtuoso (also coming from the Carnatic tradition), although I dare say Ms. Srikanth is more than his equal. However, as a composer and 'world music' fusionist, he is endlessly repetitive and endlessly recycles a few good motifs in slightly different guises. (Yes, even the best musicians do this sometimes, but not to the extent that Subramaniam seems to, ad infinitum, ad nauseum.) Ms. Srikanth's very broad fusion here took in not only Carnatic music and jazz, but also good doses of hip-hop, funk and more. The breadth and depth of this music was just mind-blowing, as well as an utter delight.

As to the question of whether the octet format added anything over and above the quintet, I regret having to answer with, very little. Three drummers/percussionists seemed entirely excessive. Especially when Ansuman was far short of impressive. Cramming in as many different percussion instruments as possible for the sake of it just does not make sense here, and his bashing away at the hang drum (aka steeldrum, derived from the steel pan but played with hands and fingers) really was an atrocity. The hang drum is a fairly delicate, subtle instrument, best used in more quiet duets or other softer passages and played with feeling and a sensitive touch. His tabla also failed to impress, in particular. A single, versatile drummer/percussionist would seem to have been a much preferable option. Or even just electronic percussion, as so excellently delivered by Nish, or the former and latter combined perhaps.

Guitar (which sadly was barely audible in the mix) and keyboards combined also seemed to provide a degree of redundancy, and one or the other would seem to have been a much preferable option, especially given the double violin frontline.

As so often, less would have been more, in terms of the large octet line-up.

Also, Solomon, as superb as he was, seemed to be given somewhat  unduly  more  soloing  time than  Haigh, I felt.

 

After all, it surely is Haigh on violin who is part of the double frontline, not Solomon and keys.

The over-all level of amplification again would have benefited from some toning down, as observed during the matinee. An utter irritation also came from the wholly superfluous rotating flood lights at front sides of the stage throughout the day; the stage lighting itself was otherwise very good. None of this of course was under the control of JSP, or any of the other acts.

All in all, I can hardly praise JSP's performance highly enough though. It was a complete delight, despite its few imperfections observed previously, and often had one at the edge of one's seat. A fascinating blend of world jazz fusion with lots besides, full of inspiration, innovation and imagination.

I am sure we shall see and hear a lot more of the Jyotsna Srikanth Project soon. And that will certainly not be any too soon! This is one of the most exciting fusion projects around.

Following a brief interview with compere DJ Ritu and Jyotsna Srikanth, and an interval, Ritu introduced the final act of the evening, acclaimed, even legendary, Carnatic vocalist Dr. M. Balamuralikrishna from Chennai.

Dr. Balamuralikrishna was accompanied by Jyotsna Srikanth on violin, Arjun Kumar on mridangam, R.N. Prakash on ghatam and Sithamparanathan on morsing. A most excellent ensemble, characteristic in its composition of Carnatic vocal classical music. The - standing - reception that Balamuralikrishna received from the audience was just incredible and had to be seen and heard to be believed. It took a good few minutes before things calmed down sufficiently for the performance to begin.

When it did, it was immediately obvious that Balamuralikrishna is still in as fine voice as ever, in spite of his eighty-two years. An astonishing circumstance in itself. What can be said about an extraordinary maestro such as Balamuralikrishna and his extraordinary performance? Very little, without stating the obvious and sounding more than a trifle trite.

The performance, specially extended on the night, was sheer joy and bliss. Balamuralikrishna humorous exchanges with, and teasing of, his outstanding accompanists - a frequent feature in Carnatic vocal music - were a delight. I completely lost track of time, so exquisite was this performance, so completely unforgettable.

The audience obviously shared the same sentiments and would have happily listened to such excellence and beauty all night, but that was of course not to be. Dr. M. Balamuralikrishna got a more than deserved, rapturous and seemingly interminable standing ovation, before being interviewed by compere Ritu, thus closing this unforgettable evening.

Day Two of the London International Arts Festival certainly had proved to be most memorable. LIAF ought to be congratulated on presenting such a line-up as this, and particularly on being able to present such a giant of Carnatic music as Dr. M. Balamuralikrishna


© 2012 Rainlore's World of Music/Rainlore. All rights reserved.

London International Arts Festival - An Overview

As already noted, I was regrettably unable to attend all three days of LIAF, and only attended Day Two, reviewed above.

However, these are a few general observations, based on my observations and experiences of the second day of the festival, as well as details from the Festival Brochure, and from following the advance publicity, especially on Facebook, as well as a few reports from other parties.

The London International Arts Festival - East London's diversity arts festival indubitably always was very ambitious, and, admittedly, perhaps somewhat over-ambitious. Nonetheless, the organisers have my greatest admiration for having such ambition and vision. I congratulate them on this vision, and indeed, am always thankful for such vision, for without it, we should all be much the poorer.

The circumstance that the originally advertised headline act for the Friday evening concert, EYOT, a Serbian folk-jazz band, were unable to make it due to not having obtained visas in time, was of course entirely beyond the control of the organisers. These things can and do happen, but LIAF were very fortunate indeed that through the good offices of their project management and the artist's kind co-operation, they were able to secure the services of a far superior headline act, The Asaf Sirkis Trio, at a mere two days' notice. This is a jazz fusion trio, led by today's premiere drummer/percussionist, Asaf Sirkis. They proved extremely popular and received a huge standing ovation. So, well done LIAF!

However, there were some issues. (Please bear in mind that these comments are intended to be entirely constructive, not criticism for the sake of it.) The first of these was the location. Ilford is simply too far out from Central and Inner London for an event of this kind, even if it is still vaguely East (Greater) London. The venue, the beautiful Redbridge Town Hall, may, all in all, have been a little overly large, at least given the location. The timing, at the height of the holiday season (and the at tail end of the Olympic Games) was likely also less than ideal.

Other such technicalities included the lack of, or perhaps non-enforcement of, a proper child attendance policy, particularly for evening performances. On the Saturday, when I attended, this certainly proved most problematic. Having little children and toddlers bawling, talking loudly,  fidgeting  and  wanting  to be  taken  to  the  toilet

 

every few minutes did not enhance the concert experience and was indeed a sore detraction. A further detraction was the frequent movement of people to and from the toilets and catering facilities during performances.

Then there was the matter of the intervals and sound checks. Carrying out the latter during the former and clearing the hall are a bad plan. All sound checks should and normally are carried out in advance of a concert. The excessive amplification and annoying moving front of stage flood lights have already been observed in the review of Day Two. This was, after all, not some kind of pop concert.

However, the London International Arts Festival's biggest failing might be said in not completely meeting its aim of being a diversity arts festival. The programme for the three days had a heavy bias of Indian, particularly Carnatic, acts, with eight of a total of fourteen acts being either Carnatic or Carnatic-inspired, only one being Hindustani, and a mere five non-Indian. And, as brilliant and hugely enjoyable as the second day's concerts were, in the context of a diversity arts festival, having a whole day consist entirely of Indian acts must be questionable. No doubt at least in part due to this predominance of Indian, specifically Carnatic, acts, the audience, certainly on the Saturday, was not even reasonably diverse, either.

All of this is rather sad indeed. However, this is not to say that the London International Arts Festival was a failure. Rather, I would like to think of the various issues as teething problems, the teething problems of a wonderful and hugely ambitious project. No doubt, the circumstance that LIAF succeeded as far as it did must in no small part be due to the excellent - if brought in on the project only at a relatively late stage - project management of Antehc Productions (and the PR specialists they brought on board, particularly 'Prickly Pear'), although many of the issues mentioned were beyond their control as they obviously must have already been set in stone, as it were, before they came on board.

No doubt, all these issues will have been addressed next time around.

It remains for me to extend my congratulations and indeed thanks to the London International Arts Festival for their vision, and to wish them even greater success for the future.


© 2012 Rainlore's World of Music/Rainlore. All rights reserved.

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