There's no stopping him
Among the brilliant and admired Carnatic musicians of our times, Chitravina N Ravikiran continues to impress with one musical achievement after another. His entry into the world of classical music astounded the greats as, at age two, he could recognise hundreds of ragas. At age five, he performed in vocal concerts. He has been notching up milestones in the nearly five decades since that start.
Consider this. He is the only artiste to have been honoured by the Music Academy at age two with a scholarship in 1969. He was the youngest artiste to receive these awards - Kalaimamani award at 17, Kumar Gandharva award at 29, and Senior SNA award at 38.
And in 2018, Ravikiran became only the third prodigy after Palghat Mani Iyer and Dr M Balamuralikrishna to receive the prestigious Sangita Kalanidhi title, and second chitravina artiste to do so.
He has given thousands of performances and lec-dems/workshops as a vocalist and a chitravina artiste over the years and around the world to critical acclaim. He pioneered long-distance music education (tele-teaching) in 1996. He also has premiered dance operas in India and around the globe. And, at latest count, Ravikiran has composed or arranged over 800 Indian music/dance/world music/melharmony pieces.
What's the secret?
In these products of his genius, how much is inspiration and how much is perspiration? "A lot of perspiration is invisible even to me when there is passion... At this phase, I'd say it's majorly inspiration, but that is anchored and augmented by perspiration over the years," he says.
A few years ago, Ravikiran set to music 1,330 verses of Thirukkural in a world-record time of just 16 hours! How was that accomplished? His explanation, "I consider it as pure God's grace - from thought to execution. It would have been impossible for me to do it if I had approached it as a human endeavour... Typically, tuning 1,330 verses in sophisticated ragas and talas to lyrical structure and meter can take several months, or even years, even for inspired scholars... I only feel humbled that I managed it in 16 hours."
His pet project is melharmony, affording a delight to connoisseurs of Western and Indian classical music around the world. I have felt it shows that the twain East and West can meet successfully. He agrees, "Melharmony was inspired by my burning desire to create a method behind the madness that fusion was fast degenerating into. All kinds of artistes were using the excuse of experimentation to camouflage lack of skills or effort in creating solid music that had both instant appeal and enduring values. Melharmony compels every artiste to be aware of the rules and aesthetics of both melodic and harmonic systems of music that are fused - for example, Indian with Western Classical/Jazz - and apply both in order to satisfy listeners from diverse systems."
Among the recent and biggest highlights of his career is receiving the coveted Sangita Kalanidhi title this year - a crowning achievement in a Carnatic musician's career.
Another recent experiment was Ravikiran's unique concept, Nritya Naadaamrita, enhancing the lyrical elements in instrumental concerts with dance accompaniment.
What was its USP? "I've worked with iconic dancers like Birju Maharaj, C V Chandrasekhar, Vyjayantimala Bali et al, who are all excellent musicians, too, and therefore choreograph and perform with appreciation for musical nuances. Nritya Naadaamrta was a different concept of dance augmenting my spontaneous creativity in live concerts done with dancer Smitha Madhav."
Among his recent melharmony events are the ones in Europe and USA. In the grand three-day World Music & Dance extravaganza in Gottingen during August 2017, Ravikiran performed with Gottingen Quintet, led by Johann-Sebastian Sommer, and the team presented three melharmony pieces.
In October 2017, Apollo Chamber Players, with guest artiste Robin Kesselman, presented the world premiere of two melharmony pieces by Ravikiran, namely Cosmic Knowledge, based on Arunagirinathar's Thiruppugazh in Shanmukhapriya ragam, followed by Ravikiran's own piece, Sharavana Bhava Guha, in Lalitha ragam, as well as A Mouthful of Universe, based on Oothukkadu Venkata Kavi's Udajagopasundara , but also influenced by Bach. His social consciousness resulted in this creation.
During their 2017 annual conference, the Madras Music Academy invited Robert Morris, a well-known music composer and theorist, from Eastman School of Music to present a paper on melharmony, and followed it up with Ravikiran's own lec-dem on it. The final lec-dem on melharmony and world music was by four-time Grammy Award-winner Glen Velez and rhythm vocalist Loire Cotler. Are there more dreams he nurtures? Ravikiran smiles, "My major passion is to stay fit and energetic so that I'm empowered to continue to contribute as much as I can, as best as I can, and for as long as I can!"