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Welcome 2005!

Wishing everyone a Happy and [substitute your favorite adjectives] 2005!

Ignorable Notes: The picture was taken a week ago. Its too darn cloudy here (for first day of a new year!) for objects to cast even hazy penumbral shadows...
posted: 31.12.04 | permalink | 4 comments

Vacation Log #3
I conclude each year by putting down all the significant happenings in my life for that year in a spreadsheet. It is an odd though concise mish-mash of - big things I brought, people I met, discoveries I made, places I visited for the first time and so on. It is a relatively recent ritual in that it started just last year but I intend to keep it up - at least for this year.

Going back to this list from the year gone past, is bound to evoke nostalgia. An incident from two years ago (thefore not in this list), always comes back to me around this time. It’s a trifle yet it always puts a smile on my face. Of course looking back with hindsight is like looking through a pair of binoculars from their wrong end – things seem small.

The happening relates to the only tangible pieces of furniture I own – a table with circular table-top and two chairs (I am a minimalist who loves to loiter on the floor).

I can sometimes demonstrate mulish obstinacy that defies any logical reasoning. That I should dress in red and have dinner at my apartment’s balcony on New Year’s Eve are two ideas that inextricably lodged themselves in the depths of my cranium. There were only three small problems – I had just moved to my apartment in November (and to Bangalore in October) and had neither a dress that looked the remotest shade of red, nor crockery nor a table – all of which would be sine qua non to exercising my grand solitary soiree.

Blue is my favorite color and I cannot recall having worn anything red in my life – not unless mom dressed me in some preposterous infant-suit of that color decades ago; of which I have no memory. This turned out to be the component of my equation that was easiest to procure. On 31st, having finally overcome my inhibitions for this color, I found myself dressed in a jaunty red Nike t-shirt.

I scanned every furniture shop that I knew in the vicinity of my home for a suitable table and chairs but none fitted the bill. Most of the shops had full a set of one dining table and four to five chairs on offer. The others exhibited such garish designs that their inconsideration for those with discreet tastes was obvious. Finally, on suggestion of a colleague, I ventured to the “propah” furniture market near Infantry road. Within minutes I spotted a shop there - called “Matrix” - that dealt in classy wood and metal furniture. Their prices were steep - the sorts one pays for being finicky. With alacrity of a hungry man randomly picking dishes from a menu I settled for my pair of chairs and table. It was 27th. I was assured, reassured delivery on the 30th. My precious cargo never came on the day earmarked for it. After lunch at office on the 31st I stared calling the furniture shop.

“Sir we are sending the delivery now”
“Now!? I am at office right now – how about in the evening?”
“Sir… now…”
“Ok..ok.. I’ll get home but make sure you send my stuff NOW”

Upon my arrival at my apartment complex I found the contents of a three-wheeler furniture wagon being unloaded at the portico. All looked well except one minor flaw – the chairs were not the ones that I had ordered.

“Hmmm.. are these for Me? I am Deepak…”
“Yes sir”
“Hmmm… they are not the ones that I ordered - the table looks fine.. but the chairs are way off!”
“I don’t know.. this is what I was told to deliver”
“Well I cannot take this – do you mind if I come with you and have a word with the shop owner?”
“Ok then load these chairs back, I’ll sit with you”
“You cannot sit with me”
“We are not allowed to have more than one person in the front of this three wheeler wagon, I’ll be challaned by the cops!!”

Reluctantly I clambered into the rear of the furniture wagon and sat on the chairs that had just been loaded back. And so our journey to the shop began. My face turned crimson with indignation as if competing with my new t-shirt to acquire a redder hue. On St. Mark’s road I could see the traffic trailing behind me. Commuters on the road considered me with curiosity – their faces sometimes contorting from the effort they had to summon to hold back their laughter. Within 15 minutes, which then felt like 15 years, we were at the shop. I jumped out of the wagon and had a little conversation with the proprietor of the shop:

“These are not the chairs that I ordered”
“Where are the ones that I had asked for? I just wanted two of them”
“They are not ready”
“Not ready?”
“We can deliver on the 2nd”
“2nd? But you promised 30th, anyways I need *something* today.. I must!”
“Why don’t you come inside and have a look sir.. perhaps there is something else that you might like”

Distraught, I frivolously looked around in the shop. My eyes settled on two chairs that looked like they would pair up just fine with the table I had picked earlier. I got them packed, made another humbling, shaky journey in the little wagon and arrived home with chairs intact. The episode had lasted some 90 minutes. With no time to spare, I dumped the chairs in my living room and rushed to office.

The third piece to make my whim come true – crockery – would have been dead easy to acquire if only I had left a little earlier from work. It was just eight at night yet all the crockery shops at MG Road had closed for New Year Eve revelry. I barged into one desolate shop which was contemplating pulling their shutters down. All I wanted was a couple of plates and bowls but the shopkeeper kept laying before me lavish dinner sets. I was at the point of being thoroughly exasperated when my glance chanced upon a stack of plates on floor. With the permission of the shop clerk, I looked through them and fished out two identical Corelle plates. Matching bowls that went with them were easy to find. The prices were just short of extortionate, but I had no energy left for complaining.

I arrived home – crockery in one hand, Mocha cake from Barista in other – just in time for my private festivities. As I settled in my Balcony for a cozy candle-lit dinner, Diana Kral’s Live in Paris recording playing in the background; the day’s grind suddenly seemed worthwhile and rendered those last moments of the year 2002 even more special – I had earned them!
posted: 30.12.04 | permalink | 16 comments

Vacation Log #2
careless stroke of brush
dabbed across the sky
wind smeared the white paint
before it could dry

posted: 29.12.04 | permalink | 0 comments

Vacation Log #1
These days, my vacation is my sole vocation. These logs will hopefully serve to remind me that I should embrace this edifying vocation next year too!

One of the many things that I attempt on a lazy day such as one today is to visit places that I otherwise rush past in passing. The very lanes and roads that you normally cross burdened with a humdrum, regimental, daily routine, when revisited, are source of profoundest of revelations. The crossing where Kasturaba road begins (behind St. Marks Church), is one such area that I don’t ever remember having “observed”. This time as I stood on the footpath, rich in the currency of spare time, my skyward gaze met this beautiful little tree planted near the inner circumference of the small Mahatma Gandhi Park. Its branches bore no leaves; just countless globular clusters of pink flowers. Occasionally, even without assistance from breeze, a flower or two would randomly begin their downward descent to the concrete below, swirling as they fell down. For moments together I was oblivious of not just the hubbub of traffic, but of my very own existence. A tiny cache of those delicate pink flowers collected at my feet. Then someone honked, the enchantment wore off, I shook the flowers off, stomped on them, and walked on – becoming one with the crowd once again.

posted: 28.12.04 | permalink | 6 comments

The Four Seasons
The history of western classical music dates back to over 400 years. Since perfect recordings of musical performances were not possible until just a few decades ago, we do not have any “sonic” records of music of that era. What we do possess is written music.

The closer an era is to the present day; the easier it is to procure music from that era – for reasons that might not always be entirely obvious.

In Baroque period (17th- early 18th century) the composers usually produced very few hard copies of a work. The church and royalty were the chief consumers of music and there was little need to produce music for public consumption. Even in the early classical period, it was common for a composer to present his student with the sole copy of a work written exclusively for him/her (this is especially true for smaller chamber/solo works). For example, we still don’t know the number of Piano Sonatas that Haydn wrote accurately – he would gift his work to his students or dedicatees without making a copy for himself!

Fortunately, in 18th and 19th centuries, sale of sheet music became a flourishing trade. While the composers did make a good deal of their living by writing music for the court, the nobility and their echelons of patrons – usually of aristocratic lineage; a significant portion of their incomes also came through royalties from the sale of their music. No wonder we find examples of even the greatest of composers (including two of my favorites – Beethoven and Chopin!) driving astute bargains with their publishers (some of those publishing houses survive to date!) – at times employing somewhat petty (dare I say unscrupulous) means to get the best price for their music. Even more so when rights for sales in countries other than the composer’s place of origin were at stake. A burgeoning middle class, later ensured, the popularity and profitability of this trade (besides music for the professionals, easier music/rearrangements for amateurs was always in great demand) which in a way insured our ability to get in touch with our musical past even centuries later.

There is however a catch. To simply have the music played by an assembly of virtuosos on the requisite instruments does by no means guarantee that you are hearing music just as the composer intended it to be heard. This is especially true for music of Baroque origins. Musical instruments have greatly evolved over the years – their range, tonality, sonority have all undergone remarkable changes – usually for better. Their very evolution also makes them ill-suited to honest reproduction of music written much before their years. Baroque therefore is best heard, on what we aficionados (pardon the traces of intellectual snobbery in this ‘we’) call, “period instruments” or replicas thereof (a feat next to impossible as far as the bowed instruments go – otherwise the Tonois, The Stradivarii, The Amatis, and The Bussottis wouldn’t be fetching millions of dollars under the auction gavel). To make matters harder, Baroque composers typically left ample room in their music for personal interpretative filigreeing. Thus to play Baroque well, you need to study the period, the composer and then hope that you can surmise the intended nuances - provided you have managed to acquire the right tools of the trade!

Italian composer Antonio Vivaldi’s Four Seasons is a work from the Baroque period which is familiar even to non-listeners of western classical. The opening motif of the first movement from “Spring” has been subjected to countless abuses by the advertising industry. And despite being one of the most recorded western classical works (besides Beethoven’s 9th), the recordings I had owned till date left a lot to be desired.

My first complete recording of the Four Seasons was by London Symphony Orchestra (I forget the name of violin soloist). My gripe – an orchestra that sounded too “full”, too modern and a recording marked by some technical blemishes. The playing both by the soloist and the orchestra is impeccable but clearly sounds like a very 20th century interpretation of an 18th century work.

I then picked a copy of this work on Sony Classical – this time a DVD! The legendry Herbert Von Karajan conducted Berliner Philharmonic, with his protégé Anne-Sophie Mutter on the violin. It is this DVD that caused me to develop a strong distaste for live recordings of classical works! Inadvertently during, diminuendo of the soulful slower movements, some member of the audience would break into a coughing fit, ruining the recording thoroughly. To add insult to injury, Anne-Sophie Mutter’s rendition of final movement of Summer (a stiff test of a violinists musicianship) was but botched. Intentionally or unintentionally she excluded a crucial tremolo from the movement altogether and played it cantabile!

At last I came across a recording which had all the ingredients that I had been keenly looking for. A “light” orchestra playing on period instruments, a virtuoso violinist, and a modern digital recording! In the first edition of the Four Seasons, Vivaldi not only wrote a sonnet to describe each “season”, but also indicated within the score the “effects” he desired the musicians to produce. To quote Andrea Marcon (the conductor of Venice Baroque Orchestra featured in the recording) – “to be a true performer of the Four Seasons – indeed, all of Vivaldi – you must be like an actor interpreting the text.” Sadly, most recordings feign oblivion to these finer details (or fail to make their attention to the nitty-gritty obvious!).

This recording with Giuliano Carmignola on the solo violin was brought to my attention by a friend who had heard rave reviews on NPR. I didn’t expect the recording to be available in India anytime soon, but they say that nice things can happen to you around Christmas if you have been a good boy during the year. Since I found the recording at Planet M yesterday, I have another reason to believe that my behavior has been within the prescribed limits of decency ;-).
posted: 27.12.04 | permalink | 0 comments

Merry Christmas!
A Christmas tree adorned with the Moon itself - it doesn't get any better :).

Merry Christmas!!!

posted: 24.12.04 | permalink | 4 comments

Cleaning a mirror
Some of the most trivial and mundane of things were taught to me by my mom – especially those relating to household chores. Now, most domestic tasks fall under the two broad categories of washing and cleaning. Cleansing the mirror in my bathroom is one of those overly simplistic activities that I used to struggle with earlier. I would manage to wash the mirror clean with hardly any effort but simply allowing it to dry off on its own or mopping it with a piece of cloth, somehow left a lot to be desired from the final result. One day, I remembered mom having advised me to use old newspaper for drying the mirror off. And indeed, doing so, did render the mirror – to use a hackneyed phrase – shiny as new!

Last week, during this final phase of my mirror cleaning operation (involving a pallid, year old copy of Asian Age’s literary Sunday supplement P.Age), the matter printed on the paper caught my attention. It was a review of Aldous Huxley’s biography. I reproduce here, quotes by him from a boxed column in the same article:

  • After silence that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.

  • Maybe this world is other planet’s hell

  • That all men are equal is a proposition which at ordinary times, no sane individual has ever given his assent

  • An intellectual is a person who has discovered something more interesting than sex

I suddenly seem to have discovered a new (perhaps unintended) merit in my mother’s years old advice!
posted: 24.12.04 | permalink | 1 comments


posted: 21.12.04 | permalink | 6 comments


posted: 19.12.04 | permalink | 1 comments

Happy Birthday Herr Beethoven!
Yesterday was Herr Ludwig Van Beethoven’s birthday. While last year this realization had occurred to me only a day later, this year it was a conscious knowledge from the very moment that I woke up.

The first work composed by Beethoven, that I had ever heard, was Für Elise and it is this piece perhaps which is most people’s introduction to the great (greatest – if I were to let my personal bias show through) composer – ironical considering that Beethoven never published it during his life (probably never intended to?). It is cataloged as Worke Ohne Opuszahl (Work Without Opus-Number) WoO 59, which indicates that it is a posthumously published work.

My ideal homage to the composer on this day, whose sublime music has kept me steady even in worst moments of turmoil in my life, would have been to play one of his works – may be his late piano sonatas. But alas, I am years away from such an endeavor. I could attempt a simplified transcription of his early works for beginners, but the degree of reverence, I hold the man and his music in, comes in the way of this dilettantish (denigrating?) exercise.

And so, in wake of these pianistic shortcomings, I decided that as a humble gesture of tribute to Herr Beethoven, I would extend the serendipity of last year to a recurring trend henceforth. While I continue to collect works of Beethoven, on this propitious day, I will make a special attempt to procure at least one of his obscurer works that I’ve never heard before. (Once I am done collecting all his works; I could extrapolate this resolution to picking unheard recordings of my favorite works).

I therefore, acquired a CD of Beethoven’s Lieder. As an added bonus there were three solo piano works on the CD, of them, the first two I had never heard. The two not only bear an opus number assigned by the composer, they are also one of their kinds (just like the Horn sonata I had picked last year) in the entire Beethoven oeuvre. The Op. 77 Piano Fantasia and Op. 89 Polonaise are works you will seldom hear performed these days.

Postlude: I have been listening to a lot of Mendelssohn of late. Very recently I had picked a recording of his Op. 6 sonata (the only one published during composer’s lifetime). The sonata - composed by Mendelssohn when he was only 17 – is a tribute of sorts to Beethoven. That it resembles his (Beethoven’s) Op. 101, A major sonata, in theme and form is nothing extraordinary; but that its opening bars have a striking (intentional?) resemblance – in melody, rhythm and tempo to Beethoven’s work merely goes on to reassert his influence on the composers of years later and their music.
posted: 17.12.04 | permalink | 2 comments


posted: 16.12.04 | permalink | 11 comments


posted: 15.12.04 | permalink | 5 comments

On dogs and men...
I met several dogs on our trek to Nandi Hills (yes I continue to harp on it for want of something that would eclipse that trip’s significance). They differed greatly - both in countenance and demeanor - from their urban cousins. To begin with, their coats were immaculate; devoid of grime, fleas or ticks. Being a keen observer of nature in general and of dogs in particular, I could state with a certain degree of surety that their exposure to humans is minimal and so whatever little impression they have formed of our race is a kind one.

Most people I’ve known, panic (even if to a small degree) at the very sight of dogs. Now they would do just fine if they were to conceal their affliction and carry on as usual – but alas they don’t! Their phobia overpowers them in various ways – the most common manifestation of which, is the increased pace of their walk. Other reactions include high pitched shrieks (with a soprano like timber)*, and the worst of them all – the propensity to pelt stones. This abrupt change in our disposition prompts our friendly city-bred canine creatures to approach humans with measured caution (bordering on consternation).

Their pastoral brothers however, demonstrated utmost, almost unexpected, curiosity. Indeed, some came extremely close to inspect the inner workings of my camera. One such fellow (who in retrospect, I have chosen to christen as Luki) stood peacefully at my feet, looked up to me, and almost broke into a little refrain – “My name is L-U-K-I! Who and Why are you!!?”

And what would a refrain be without an accompniment (click to listen)...

*With due apologies, I merely state the empirical here - this trait is most commonly observed among the fairer members of our species.
posted: 13.12.04 | permalink | 9 comments

Orsolino Quintet in Bangalore
I prefer the intimacy of a chamber recital to the grandeur of a symphony orchestra. The String Quartet is my favorite ensemble. I’ve heard very little music for wind ensembles, and in all honesty, did not even know until very recently that flute is one of the members of a Wind Quintet. When I learned of a performance by Orsolino Quintet, organized by Max Mueller Bhavan in Bangalore, I made sure that I attended it – what better way than a live recital to initiate oneself to a new ensemble.

The Wind Quintet unlike its string counterpart, gained prominence only in the late classical period. It evolved from a bigger ensemble – the Wind Octet – of two oboes, two clarinets, two horns and two Bassoons. The duplicate instruments of the Octet were done away with and a flute added to the resultant “quartet”, giving us the Wind Quintet.

I reached the performance venue (Chowdaiyah Hall) with two friends and found out that no tickets/passes were being sold at the venue. While the posters announcing this performance at a lot of places spoke of everyone being welcome in a prominent font, the finer print had clearly stated that we needed to acquire passes from the Max Mueller bhavan to be allowed in – by no means a detail as trifle as the size of the typeface used in printing it. A friend somehow (by cajoling rather than by coercion) managed one pass, on producing which at the entrance, the three of us were allowed in (the pass was meant to admit only two). The passes were just a token – promotion of classical music was clearly the real intent of the evening. We settled into our seats with much expectation – the stray notes from the greenroom rehearsal of quintet serving to heighten it.

There are three kinds of composers – ones that you’ve heard, ones that you haven’t and ones that you haven’t heard of. The evening’s program had a bigger share of the third kind (as far as I was concerned). The program began with the recital of the overture to Mozart’s ‘Cosi Fan Tutte’, rearranged for the string quintet by Ulf-Guido Schäfer. This was followed by Antonin Reicha’s (whose students in the Paris Conservatoire included the likes of Liszt and Beriloz) Quintet in D (Op. 91/3). Then came a modern classical (20th century) work – Six Bagatelles for Wind Quintet (1953) – composed by Geörgy Ligeti. The works were redolent of background score of Tom and Jerry. I don’t want to sound disrespectful to modern composers, but their music somehow escapes me. It takes a virtuoso to perform a modern classical work and yet the output – (usually highlighted by good deal of dissonance) is hardly gratifying. Beethoven’s music at one time was spoken of in a similar vein, so I am inclined to assume that their music (if it can be called that) is much ahead of their times. (Barely weeks ago I had heard another work – a choral work – by Ligeti and even that had served to incense my eardrums).

A quick fifteen minute break separated the first half of the performance from second, the latter began with performance of August Klughardt’s Quintet in C (Op. 79). Then came what was least expected, the members of the Wind Quintet got up, moved their chairs and music stands into a neat file at the very edge of the stage, and began performance of Luciano Berio’s Opus Number Zoo (sic!). The intention, I believe, was to greatly lighten the stiff air which pervades any western classical performance by having some good humored fun. The four pieces which had verses that were recited by one or more members of the ensemble, as others played in the background had all of us in rapture! (Besides ratifying my earlier observation on connection between modern western classical and cartoon films) Here are two verses that caused considerable mirth:

Barn Dance

The fox took a chicken out on the floor.
Poor silly chicken didn’t know the score.
And as they whirled in their joyous dance
oh she admired how the fox could prance.
She never noticed when the light went out…

She skipped to the beat with head held high,
she bowed to the fox as he circled by.
He winked at her with a high-dee-hoe.
And thy then engaged in a doessee doe.
She never noticed when the lights went out…

He swung her to left, he swung her to right,
he swung her around with all his might.
The air grew heavy, the lights grew dim
but she felt no fear as she smiled at him;
He turned her again and she held him tight
as she smiled and whirled in the fading light,
she felt to fear, she knew no doubt
and never noticed when the light went out.

That’s all, folks.

Tom Cats

In the jungle of the city two tom-cats chanced to meet.
Omar and Bartholomew, tip-toeing around their beat.
Their chests swelled up with envy (oh, an envy most intense),
as each spotted his new rival, beside a back-yard fence.
Bartholomew’s great tail (a tail of wide renown)
made Omar stare insanely, that tail he’d love to own.
Bartholomew stared also, he envied what he saw.
He yearned to own the whiskers that Omar proudly wore.
A howl soon broke the silence of that mid-summer night.
Like David and Goliath, both cast aside all fright,
as cat met cat in battle, in battle, in battle.
Oh. It was a beastly fight.
Oh. Both limped home forlorn.
All tails and whiskers gone.

p.s. The Orsolino Quintet is on an all India tour and their last destination is New Delhi, where they perform on the 15th – highly recommended!
posted: 8.12.04 | permalink | 0 comments

Recent picks
On a balmy Thursday evening in Chennai, I found myself strongly drawn to the new Planet M music store at Spencer’s Plaza. A visit, just minutes ago, to Landmark in the same building, had ended in a minor disappointment (which differs greatly from its musical cousin A minor dissapointment). For reasons that are best left for the shop-owners to explain, the western classical section was situated at only an arm’s length of their perfume store. The strange, pungent mixture of several strong perfumes that rendered the air (and my breathing) heavy, made it impossible for me to rummage through their almost random collection. If I hear of a new music store in a town, I make it a point to visit it – and for a good reason too. A new store is almost certain to be well stocked in western classical. As days pass by, the store comes to the irrefutable conclusion that western classical as a genre doesn’t do well and so their stock is hardly, if ever, replenished. My visit gave me a lot to cheer about (it’s a different matter that once I totaled up the bills it also gave me a severe heartburn). Here is what will prominently occupy place of pride on my CD shelf for next few days (as I tell people when I am asked about my preferred genre of music, these are mostly the golden oldies from the 18th and 19th century ;-)):

  • Chopin: The three piano sonatas, five etudes, four mazurkas (Pianist: Leif Ove Andsnes)

  • Tchaikovsky: Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, The Nutcracker - highlights

  • Mendelssohn: Sonata Op. 6, Variation sérieuses, Preulde and Fugue Op. 35 No.1, Rondo capriccioso (Pianist: Murray Perahia)

  • Mendelssohn: Piano Works Vol. 5: Seven Characteristic Pieces Op. 7, Fantasia Op. 28, Prelude and Fugue, Sonata movement in B flat minor, Capriccio Op. 5 (Pianist: Benjamin Frith)

  • Haydn Piano Sonatas (Pianist: Leif Ove Andsnes)

  • Ludwig Van Beethoven: Variation for piano (Pianist: Cédric Tiberghien)

  • Mozart Sonatas for piano: K. 330, 331 “alla turca” and 333, Allegro K. 312 (Pianist: Georges Pludermacher)

Peace... :-)

posted: 4.12.04 | permalink | 2 comments

Life is like a game of Tetris. Now it makes sense, now it does not. And more often than not, it does not - for when it does it gets snipped off - at least the parts thereof, that do (make sense), are (snipped off).

I write this as if in a reverie; like a Chopin nocturne.
posted: 3.12.04 | permalink | 7 comments

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