Creating rare moments with his violin, Dr. L. Subrmaniam has devoted his life to music and the pursuit of its knowledge…
Dr. L. Subramaniam was taking music lessons before he even celebrated his fifth birthday. When most kids of his age were busy playing with toys, he was already preparing to create magic from the strings of violin. The violinist, conductor and composer possesses a rare combination of training in both classical Carnatic music and Western classical music. The virtuoso techniques of Dr. Subramaniam has the capacity of mesmerizing the audience while the fusion compositions shows the versatility of this musical genius.
The maestro begins his day with a steaming cup of coffee after paying obeisance to the deities. “It is a ritual that has stayed with me for ages.” For him music is a universal language, beautiful and pure. “Music is something which anyone with an open mind can understand. It creates a sense that cannot be replaced and a state of mind that is incomparable.”
The sprawling house that Dr. Subramaniam shares with his wife and children is a serene musical tribute. The décor is very much in sync with the musical family that resides within its lyrically composed environs. Talking to him reveals that the family background of Dr. Subramaniam has impacted him profoundly. “My father inspired me to take up violin. I grew up in a family of musicians. My father was a violinist and classical singer. My mother on the other hand played Veena and a bit of Harmonium. She was also a classical singer.” His parents who so deeply moved him with their creativity were V. Lakshminarayana and Seethalaxmi. He remembers his father as someone who devoted his life to music. “He travelled widely and he had an overarching desire to change the role of a Violinist from an accompanying artist to a solo performer. He was keen to make the Violin a solo instrument and experimented with various techniques.”
Dr. Subramaniam lived in Jaffna (Sri Lanka) during his early years. He grew up learning music under the tutelage of his father. Interestingly, his brothers, L. Shankar and L. Vaidyanathan also went on to become acclaimed musicians. The late L. Vaidyanathan is no more but Dr. Subramaniam has released recordings which form a homage to both his brothers. The history of music in the family goes still deeper. Dr. Subramaniam remembers the days of his grandfather. “My paternal grandmother was a singer. She inspired my father to take up music. Everyone in the family was taught music because the elders in the family felt that some form of art would help them retain their roots.”
Learning from his father was one of the best experiences in the life of Dr. Subramaniam. When his father used to teach others at home, he used to sit, learn and take notes. He calls learning from his father, “the best training that anyone could have wished for.” His father taught both theory and practical which was very helpful for his young protégé.
While he was born to the family of gifted musicians, the trend continued in the next generation too. He was married to Vijayshree Shankar who died in 1995 and have been married to the famous singer Kavitha Krishnamurthy since 1999. Dr. Subramaniam has performed with most of his family members. “I have done concerts with my wife and played duets with my son Ambi apart from doing a number of performances with my daughter Bindu who is a singer and lyricist.”
His deep love and respect for the talents possessed by his parents become apparent in his profession and the fact that he considers his father the biggest inspiration of his life. “He gave violin its face when nobody thought about it.” The Lakshminarayana Global Music Festival engendered by Dr. Subramaniam in 1992 has been already been held in 49 cities across 20 countries and five continents.
While his father devoted his life to music, Dr. Subramaniam has done no less. His first performance was as a six year old. His father was to perform at a concert being held at one of the temples and he felt that it would be an auspicious occasion for the young son to perform for the first time. There were several questions raised by the organisers. Performing before such a huge crowd was in itself a daunting task and Dr. Subramaniam was just six. “I had my own fears. What if things went wrong? How would the organisers take it? Then there was the fear of going against my father’s wishes. When my father called me on the stage I was under intense pressure.” However, all these fears of Dr. Subramaniam and the organisers were put to rest when he went on to give a fantastic performance. The performance was so brilliant that the organisers who had earlier resisted took credit for launching his musical career. The Late V Lakshminarayana was a proud man that day. That concert in Jaffna set the tone for Dr. Subramaniam’s career. But, apart from music there was something else which fascinated and attracted him in equal measure. It was science. “I loved science and during my schooldays itself I became very passionate about the subject.” His fascination with science continued and Dr. Surbramaniam went on to pursue an MBBS from Madras Medical College. Perhaps few who hum to the tune of his compositions know that he had registered as a General Practitioner. But, soon music called to him and became a full time career for him.
Having two widely differing interests, on one side music and on the other side science, to strike a balance between the two did not come easy for Dr. Subramaniam. While studying medicine in India, he went to the concert of a German artiste. Through these contacts, he got an opportunity to study music in Germany. He went to meet his father at a hotel in Madras and wanted to return to Germany with him. “My mother would not listen to it and I almost cried,” remembers Dr. Subramaniam. However, the incident did not quench his thirst for music and he later sent all his tapes to Los Angeles for entry into the music programme. The programme is for four years for those who do not have a Bachelor’s in Music but the talent that Dr. Subramaniam possesses had an astounding impact on the evaluators and he was directly admitted to a Master’s programme. “I studied for nine months and completed the programme. With the rest of the time in hand, I went on to do an internship.”
Dr. Subramaniam’s fame and talent soon won him the respect and ears of several patrons and he began performing in the U.S. The time he spent in U.S. was productive in several ways. He got an opportunity to experience art in its myriad forms which later on lead to his first book, Euphony. “Euphony is a book on Indian classical music for the western audience,” informs Dr. Subramaniam. He penned the book in along with his first wife, Vijayshree. An internationally acclaimed figure, Dr. Subramaniam has released more than 200 compositions. One of his biggest claim to fame is his ability to bring together Carnatic music and Western classical. He has collaborated with some of the best musical geniuses of our times. These include Yehudi Menuhin, -Stephane Grappelli, Ruggiero Ricci and Jean-Pierre Rampal. He has also made albums with Ruggiero Ricci, Herbie Hancock, Joe Sample, Jean Luc Ponty, George Harrison, Stanley Clark and John Handy among others. He has gifted the world with several of his rare compositions such as the Double Concerto for Violin and Flute. Global Fusion was another album which won him critical acclaim.
Music is Dr. Subramaniam’s forte and the Indian and Western Film Industry could hardly remain immune to its charm. He has composed a number of music scores for Indian and western films which have caught the imagination of people. Salaam Bombay, Mississipi Masala, Little Buddha and Cotton Mary are some of films he has lent his talent to.Apart from the doyens of Western classical, Dr. Subramaniam has been a name to reckon with on the Indian classical music scene. He has earned acclaim as accompanying violinists to vocalists such as K.V. Narayanswamy, M. D. Ramanathan and M. Balamuralikrishnan.
He has produced innumerable compositions, accompanied a number of vocalists, matched his violin with the best in the world in a number of repertoires but there are some of his compositions that remain close to his heart. There are two which particularly stand out for Dr. Subramaniam. One is called the Fantasy on Vedic Chants- a tribute to my late mother. “I worked on this composition after my break from music following her sudden demise.” This composition is seen as a milestone and inspiration by several composers. The New York Post wrote about his piece, “Subramaniam … very successfully manages to bring East and West together. The composer – violinist showed off some astounding virtuosity. It (Fantasy on Vedic Chants) is a highly colourful and attractive piece. It’s a tremendous showpiece, given the fabulous microtonal fiddle playing of the composer and ought to bring the house down anywhere. It did Thursday night.” The second composition which features among the favourites of Dr. Subramanaiam is Shanti Priya. It uses both Indian ragas and modal harmony and is a concerto dedicated to peace and harmony. The other favourite compositions of Dr. L. Subramaniam are Fusion with Grappelli, Conversations and Journey which he performed at the United Nations. For all his achievements this virtuoso remains humble and forever ready to learn. In his own words,“music is a vast ocean and no one can claim to know it all. The more you know, the more you realize how little you know. It is an eternal quest.”
The path to eternal quest has led to Dr. L. Subramaniam registering for the Doctoral Programme with the Cultural Studies Department at Jain University. His research revolves around Creating Symphonic Orchestral Compositions using implied Harmony from the Raga System. Through his research Dr. Subramaniam is aiming to synthesize a common platform between Indian classical and western classical music, using two integral concepts – Raga (Indian) and Harmony (Western). He intends to create a system whereby composers can create compositions, which conform to the rules of both styles of music, and still remain interesting and pleasing to the ear. He is pursuing his research under Dr. Choodamani Nandagopal, Dean, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, Jain University. His research is in an area which is relatively untouched. While there are scholars who have pursued studies on Harmony and Raga System separately, there are almost none who have tried to combine the best of both to come up with compositions that touch the soul while combining the best of both. Dr. Subramaniam certainly believes in giving back to the society.
He has been a part of a number of philanthropic projects and has lent his guidance to several budding violinists. He runs the Subramaniam Foundation along with his wife Kavitha Krishnamurthy. In 2007, the musical duo started the Subramaniam Academy of Performing Arts (SAPA) in Bangalore. The academy’s vision is to, ‘nurture, train and mentor those who want to pursue a career in various performing arts, or those who pursue art forms for personal joy and satisfaction.’
Dr. Subramaniam plans to continue to give the world many more soulful melodies but his biggest contribution would always remain the unique blend of Indian and Western classical he has introduced the listeners to. While he has inspired and will inspire several other musicians to experiment with different forms of music, his contributions will always stand out.