Yesterday I had the opportunity to perform a “mikeless” concert at the Wigmore Hall in London. Nearly three and half years back I had blogged about mic vs non mic concerts after singing a mikeless concert in Europe. This time the experience was something very different and showed very clearly how it can be done and what are the challenges. The Wigmore is a beautifully designed hall specifically for chamber music or acoustic non amplifed music. As soon as my concert had been announced I received an email from someone requesting me to sing without amplification as he felt the auditorium, ambience etc are so good for the same and the experience would be very different. He also complained that Indians in India generally amplified their music far too much and he hoped that would not be the case at the Wigmore.
I kept my options open until I could actually get to the place and see things for myself. As we sat down to test the place during the rehearsal/sound check I realised that this was a different cup of tea alltogether. This hall is so beautifully designed and acoustically superb that amplification is really not necessary. The hall can hold close to 400 people and every little sound and nuance that you perform can be heard clearly. After a little bit of discussion we finally agreed on doing a completely mikeless concert. Fortunately for me the following things were necessary for me to able to do the same.
1. The construction, acoustics and ambience of the wonderful auditorium.
2. Absolute silence from the audience.
3. A significant amount of restraint by the mrudangam artiste Neyveli Venkatesh in order to control the volume.
4. Lastly but more importantly a concert duration of 45 minutes.
The organisation promised me points 1 and 2, Venkatesh agreed to point 3, and point 4 ensured that the strain would not be that much as opposed to singing mikeless for 3 hours. Coming to the concert finally it was indeed a great experience for me, Varadarajan (Violin artiste) and Venkatesh. I have never sung mikeless to an audience of 400 members or so and they were so spontaneous in their reception of the music. At this time I must thank Ustad Amjad Ali Khan sahib, who has taken up a year long project to present Indian music at the Wigmore Hall. In their 100+ year history they have never had Carnatic music or Indian dance and it is Khan sahib who has brought this to Wigmore. It was a great honour for me to finally meet Khansahib and get his blessings. I have seen and heard him from afar for so many years and it was very nice of him to actually listen to my concert. Later yesterday, he gave his usual virtuoso performance also mikeless!
Times have changed and we need to adapt. A similar concert happening in India is really unthinkable at the moment. The mikeless era also produced music which was significantly different from the modern day. There was difference in the aesthetic quality in the music of say a Vina Dhanammal who performed at primarily home and Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavatar who’s ringing voice had to be heard by a 1000 people. With the advent of mics music has also changed. Give me a Wigmore Hall and I can sing without mics for an hour or more but otherwise I live in an age of electricity, internet, instant communication and I need my mics as much as I need these. However detoxing at the Wigmore was really worth it especially when an Englishman came up to me and said “You gave us Bhava and we got Rasa!!”
Here is a lovely review of the concert by Bruno Kavanagh – http://www.narthaki.com/info/rev12/rev1197.html