Carnatic Violin Concert

Carnatic Violin Concert

By Akkarai Sisters

Saturday, October 28, 2023 | 4:30 PM

Fugett Middle School Auditorium

500 Ellis Lane
West Chester, PA 19380

About This Event

SRUTI is pleased to present a Grand Violin concert featuring the Akkarai sisters accompanied by R Sankaranarayanan on the Mridangam and Chandrasekara Sarma on the Ghatam.

Akkarai S Subhalakshmi (Violin)

Akkarai S Subhalakshmi (website) hails from a musical family.  She started learning vocal and violin under her father, Akkarai Shri S Swamynathan, a veteran violinist who founded the Swara Raga Sudha school of music.  She was joined on the stage by her younger sister, Akkarai S Sornalatha at an early age. They are together known as ‘Akkarai Sisters’ and hold the unique distinction of being highly sought-after as both violinists and vocalists. Subhalakshmi also trained under Shri V Janakiraman, Shri O V Subramanian, Padmabhushan Shri P S Narayanaswamy and Chitravina Ravikiran.

Subhalakshmi is one of today’s leading violinists and is known for her unique tone reminiscent of the human voice, and her soulful music that is a harmonious blend of virtuosity on the violin and the fine nuances of Indian classical music. She is equally enthralling as a vocalist with her mellifluous voice and depth of creativity and sensitivity. She has shared the stage with legends like Dr M Balamuralikrishna, Dr N Ramani, G Harishankar, T V Gopalakrishnan, Palghat R Raghu, Umayalpuram K Sivaraman, Vikku Vinayakaram, A K Pazhanivel.  She has also been a part of several of Sri T M Krishna’s collaborations.

Subhalakshmi has performed widely in India, and around the world. She has been featured at the Théâtre de la Ville Festival (Paris), the farewell concert for Zubin Mehta (Munich), the Darbar Festival and Sadler’s Wells Theatre (U.K.), Kalman Sultanik Confederation House (Israel), a special duet with her sister for the Emperor and Empress of Japan. She has also given talks and lecture-demonstrations on Carnatic music, the art of accompaniment, at various venues.

Subhalakshmi was conferred with the “Rajiv Gandhi Yuva Puraskar” award by the President of India at the age of thirteen, and has since earned a host of other awards including the “Yuva Kala Bharathi”, the “Kalki Krishnamurthy” Memorial Award, the “Ustad Bismillah Khan Yuva Puraskar” award from the Sangeet Natak Akademy, “Vani Kala Nipuna”, and the “Shanmukha Sangeeta Shiromani”. In 2019, she became the youngest violinist to achieve the ‘A’ grade at All India Radio and Doordarshan. The sisters received the prestigious “Kalaimamani” award in 2019. 

Subhalakshmi’s first album was a rare feat featuring her vocal with her own violin accompaniment at the age of fifteen. Her other albums include ‘Keeravani’ and ‘Varali’, and duets with her sister such as ‘Double Bow’, ‘Ananda Tandavam’, ‘Inta Saukhyam’, and Charsur’s ‘December Season’ Series.

Akkarai S Sornalatha (Violin)

Akkarai S Sornalatha hails from a musical family.  She started learning vocal and violin under her father, Akkarai Shri S Swamynathan, a veteran violinist who founded the Swara Raga Sudha school of music, who continues to guide her.  Under his intensive training, she made her concert debut by the tender age of eight.

She is the younger sister of the renowned violinist and vocalist Akkarai S Subhalakshmi, and, performing together as ‘Akkarai Sisters’, they hold the unique distinction of being highly sought-after as both vocalists and violinists. Sornalatha also trained under Shri O V Subramaniam, Padmabhushan Shri P S Narayanaswamy and Chitravina Shri N Ravikiran.

Sornalatha’s acclaimed style of playing, characterized by a sweet tone and sensitive fingering, is a confluence of intellect and aesthetics. She has also touched the hearts of many through her vocal music with her soulful and creative style. She has played with several leading musicians such as Chitravina N Ravikiran, T M Krishna, Shrimushnam V Raja Rao, Hyderabad Sisters, P Unnikrishnan, S Shashank, and others.   She has toured widely in India and abroad, performing at prestigious venues, such as a special duet concert with her sister for the Emperor and Empress of Japan, Kalman Sultanik Confederation House (Israel), Umeå Jazzfestival (Sweden).  She has also given talks and lecture-demonstrations on Carnatic music, the art of accompaniment, at various venues around the world.

Sornalatha is a gold medalist MA music graduate from the University of Madras and an A-Grade artiste in both vocal and violin at All India Radio and Doordarshan;  She has received several honors & awards including the “Best Violinist” award from the Indian Fine Arts Society, and the “Kalki Krishnamurthy” memorial award.  She also received the “Shanmukha Sangeeta Shiromani” from the Shanmukhananda Sabha Mumbai, “Outstanding Vocalist” award from the Madras Music Academy, and the “Yuva Purandara Award” from Indiranagar Sangeetha Sabha, Bangalore together with her sister. The sisters received the prestigious “Kalaimamani” award in 2019. 

She has released many duet albums with her sister, such as ‘Ananda Tandavam’, a vocal duet in their early teens, as well as ‘Double Bow’, ‘Inta Saukhyam’, and Charsur’s ‘December Season’ series.

R Sankaranarayanan (Mridangam)

Sankaranarayanan hails from a traditional music family of the legendary Sangeetha Kalanidhi Papanasam Sivan. His father, Papanasam Sri R. Ramani Bhagavathar is one of the direct disciples of Sri Sivan and an eminent Nama Sankeerthanam exponent. He started learning Mridangam from Vidwan Papanasam Sri Kumar and is now under the guidance of Kalaimamani Shri V. Rajarao.

Sankaranarayanan started performing in concerts at the age of 9.  Since then, he has accompanied senior artists including Dr. M. Balamurali Krishna, Shri. P. S. Narayanaswami, Dr. N. Ramani, Shri. T. N. Seshagopalan, Sikkil Sisters, Bombay Sisters, Dr. Sudha Raghunathan, and has performed at venues worldwide.  He has performed in Jugalbandi concerts with senior Hindustani musicians and collaborated with Western musicians.  Sankaranarayanan is an ‘A’ grade artist on the All India Radio.

G Chandrasekara Sharma (Ghatam)

Chandrasekara Sharma, a Ghatam artist and Vocalist, hails from an illustrious family of Carnatic musicians. His father, Shri. T. H. Gurumurthy is a veteran Carnatic violinist, his uncle Shri. T H ‘Vikku’ Vinayakram is a legendary Ghatam Vidwan.  

Chandrasekara Sharma initially started learning Ghatam from his uncle Sri. T.H. Subash Chandran. He has played with senior musicians including Shri T.K Murthy, Shri. Guruvayur Dorai, Shri. Thiruvarur Bhakthavatsalam. He has also given his contribution to Cinema Music Albums and TV serials.

Chandrasekara Sharma is also a professional vocalist, and a disciple of Sri Vijay Siva & Sri R K Shriramkumar.

Concert Review

Bravura performance by Akkarai Sisters-Sankaranarayanan-Chandrasekara Sharma

By Jayram Sataluri

Live at Fugett Middle School, West Chester, PA (October 28th 2023)

Akkarai Sisters (Subhalakshmi and Sornalatha) – violin (w/ some vocal)

R Sankaranarayanan – mridangam

G Chandrasekara Sharma – ghatam 

Shishir Kumar- tambura

Duration: 2 hours 46 minutes  

Audience: 70 to 80 people

  1. vanajAkSi ninnE kOri- kalyANi, aTa, Pallavi Gopala Iyer
  2. vallabhA nAyakasya- bEgaDa, rUpakaM, Muthuswami Dikshitar
  3. kana kana rucirA- varALi, Adi (2 kalai), Thyagaraja
  4. lalitE SrI pravRddhE- bhairavi, Adi, Thyagaraja
  5. heccarikagA rArA- yadukulakAmbhOji, khanda cApu, Thyagaraja
  6. nenaruncarA nApaini- siMhavAhini, dESAdi, Thyagaraja
  7. Sri kAntimatiM- hEmAvati, Adi (2 kalai), Muthuswami Dikshitar
  8. Saranam Saranam candraSEkhara- madhuvanti, miSra cApu, Akkarai Sornalatha
  9. mAnD thillAna– Adi, Lalgudi G Jayaraman
  10. nambik-keTTavar- hindOLaM, Adi, Papanasam Sivan
  11. nI nAma rUpamulaku- saurAshTraM, Adi, Thyagaraja
  12. brief suraTi AlApana

The quad of Akkarai Sisters (Subhalakshmi and Sornalatha), R Sankaranarayanan and Chandrasekara Sharma gave a bravura performance at Fugett Middle School on October 28th. Commencing with the Kalyani Ata tAla varNam, they did 3 kAlas in the Pallavi, anupallavi and muktAyi swarams; the 3rd round in khandam was noteworthy. Following was vallabhA nAyakasya, Dikshitar’s short yet beauteous ode to Lord Ganesha where the sisters brought back memories of past masters rendering it. The swaraprastara was short and sweet. Next was kana kana rucirA which I haven’t heard rendered in a concert excluding Pancharatna Krithi Aradhanas and Trimurthi Day Aradhanas that I have attended and participated in as a child. Though they followed the traditional way of rendering, the sisters played with such sensitivity and reverence towards Thyagaraja. The percussionists greatly complemented the sisters. The highlight was the swara-sahitya portion where Sornalatha sang the sahitya alongside her elder sister. Her breath control and switching of the octaves was good. She even explained the third sahitya line during the rendition.

Next, Sornalatha played an endearing Bhairavi alapana. She highlighted the key phrases in the rAgam and finished with a madhya sthAyi RNS which indicated lalitE SrI pravRddhE. The sisters made sure the memory of Lalgudi was evoked throughout the rendition by playing the sangatis he had popularized. The swarams were at the usual line Teliyani and the sisters alternated perfectly with Sankaranarayanan playing for Sornalatha and Chandrasekara Sharma playing for Subhalakshmi. Sornalatha played the last round of swaraprastara and did a complex Abhishek Raghuramesque finish which she slipped during the first time, but she nailed it the second time around with Subhalakshmi joining towards the end. 

Next was a soothing heccarikagA rArA which felt like a lullaby towards Sri Rama. The sisters’ violins were singing in sync throughout. Following was a rapid nenaruncarA nApaini cAla. Though it would have been better if it was rendered a little slower, the sisters didn’t disappoint, and played a few sangatis I hadn’t heard before. I was hoping they would play swaraprastara and they did to my delight. Both percussionists were having the time of their lives. 

Next Subhalakshmi started Chatusruthi Rishabham and played familiar phrases of kharaharapriyA before highlighting the prati madhyama which made it hEmAvati. Her mandra sthAyi was heartwarming and her bowing was powerful, reminiscent of Lalgudi and Kanyakumari. When she got to the madhya sthAyi, she played the opening notes of Sri kAntimatiM and instantly we knew it would be the main piece. As she was approaching the tAra sthAyi she displayed her strong foundation by alternating between gamaka laden and flat notes. Her tAra sthAyi was terrific and the faster portions leaned towards Kanyakumari style which kept us in awe. She ended the alapana by going back down the mandra sthAyi and finishing softly at madhya shadja. 

And Sri kAntimatiM was indeed the main piece, and the sisters were singing through their violins. The sangatis they played were both familiar and fresh. I could tell that long time lovers of Dikshitar’s heavenly krithi were loving every moment. I could see a few audience members closing their eyes, soaking in everything.Though it is a short krithi like vallabhA nAyakasya, the sisters did not rush at all. The swaraprastara was simply splendid, especially the tiSra nadai portion which delighted the laya inclined folk. The short portions were also delightful where Subhalakshmi would alternate between the madhya and tAra and Sornalatha, the madhya and mandra. The ending was yet another Abhishek Raghuram inspired one, where they played the third round in tiSram, but this time they didn’t slip.

Sankaranarayanan started with the first round in first kALam chatusram. His kuchi mridangam was reminiscent of his guru and he played with great glee. His ending was a korvai popularized by his guru, “thadhi thakadhinatham, dhi thakadhinatham, thakadhinatham, thadhinkinathom, thathadhinkinathom, thakathadhinkinathom”… which he played in 5 speeds. Chandrasekhara Sharma got his turn and showed why he is truly a scion of the legendary Thetakudi Harihara Sharma school. His gumki was reminiscent of his legendary uncle Vikku and the faster portions even more so because he was playing the different parts of the ghatam the same way. His finishing korvai was a typical Vikku/Subhashchandran one and he ended his turn in tiSram. Perhaps Sankaranarayanan was desiring to play a different nadai, but since the nadai had already transitioned to tiSram, he complied and played a terrific tiSram displaying the different numerous patterns he has mastered. At one point, I thought he was doing a keezh kala miSram and even wanted to go to sankIrnam, but he kept it at tiSram. His chapu reminded me of another southpaw, Bangalore Arjun Kumar. Chandrasekhara Sharma played a usual tiSram pattern that I have heard numerous times by Subhashchandran and yet showed maturity beyond his age. During the shorter portions, there was a switch to khandam and from there the two percussionists joined forces, playing farans, mohara and korvai in that nadai. What was unique about the mohara was that it did not end in a thalanguthom, but in variations of thakadhinna. After the thani, the quad finished the krithi in style.  

After the applause, Sornalatha explained the uniqueness of Sri kAntimatiM. Next, they would render a krithi on Kanchi Maha Periyava in madhuvanti and miSra cApu. This time Subhalakshmi took the vocalist role and sang a melodious alapana in a Hindustani touch with her younger sister following along. Her singing in D# (D on the piano) sounded so sublime that she would just overtake today’s Indian classical male singers singing at the same shruti. There was no strain whatsoever. The Pallavi line Saranam Saranam candraSEkhara was divine and the switch from Sanskrit to Tamil sahitya was smooth. Here I must point out the dynamic modulation, which is lacking in many of today’s performers, but was greatly emphasized by Dr. Balamuralikrishna throughout his life; both sisters knew how and when to do crescendo and decrescendo without overdoing each whether they were singing or playing. This demonstrates that they are adept in all forms of music as it runs in their blood. In the middle of the krithi, Subhalakshmi explained how the raga mudra has been placed in the charanam line. At the end, she announced that it was Sornalatha’s own composition which prompted huge applause. 

Then they played Lalgudi’s mAnD thillAna which was a request by their disciple Shishir who was on tambura. And they did justice to it, making us feel the maestro’s presence in the auditorium. Then Subhalakshmi sang the anupallavi line of nambik-keTTavar which gave us a nice jolt and continued with the rest of the krithi. They immediately segued into the immortal nI nAma rUpamulaku (Subhalakshmi singing and Sornalatha playing) while Sornalatha finished with Surati ending on tAra shadja and Subhalakshmi ending with madhya shadja. Sankaranarayanan and Chandrasekara Sharma provided a fireworks finale. 

Kudos to Sruti for providing this bravura performance by the Sisters, Sankaranarayanan and Chandrasekara Sharma which gave the rasikAs their money’s worth. 

Jayram Sataluri is a rasikA and an ardent supporter of SRUTI.