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Q&A with Dr. L. Subramaniam, the “Paganini of Indian Classical music"
Dr. L. Subramaniam is considered India’s violin icon and the “Paganini of Indian Classical music.” He has the serenity of an Indian musician combined with the magnetism of a Western “star.” Constantly performing all over the world—from Singapore to Paris, from Delhi to Los Angeles—he has conquered every audience with the elegance and virtuosity of his style. His career as a childhood prodigy brought him into contact with the greatest musicians and he soon became a master of the violin. Since 1973 Subramaniam has made historic collaborations and recordings with renowned musicians such as Sir Yehudi Menuhin, Stéphane Grappelli, Stevie Wonder, Jean-Pierre Rampal, and Herbie Hancock, among others.
On Friday, October 4, Subramaniam performs South Indian Carnatic music with his son Ambi Subramaniam and percussionist Mahesh Krishnamurthy as the kick-off concert to the CMA's Performing Arts 2013-14 season. The concert begins at 7:30 p.m. following a pre-concert talk at 6:00 p.m. by Sonya Rhie Quintanilla, George P. Bickford Curator of Indian and Southeast Asian Art, as she previews the reopening of the Indian and Southeast Asian galleries. Read on for our Q&A with Dr. L. Subramaniam, and get an inside perspective of what to expect at the show next week!
You have been playing violin since you were a child. What first inspired you to pick up that instrument?
As a child, my father Prof V. Lakshminarayana was my hero, and he played the violin. I wanted to be like him so I wanted to learn the violin, too! He was self-taught on the violin. He taught himself to be able to accompany his vocal students and soon began to improve on the existing playing techniques and introducing his own, allowing more dexterity and intricacy while playing. In doing so, he was able to bring Carnatic violin to the forefront - the technical mastery that his technique could help achieve played a major role in developing the role of the violin as a solo instrument in Carnatic music. Although I did initially learn singing, I soon switched over to playing the violin after being inspired by him.
Who do you consider as your musical or creative influences?
My father is my greatest influence. I was also greatly inspired by the technical perfection of Jascha Heifetz, and the playing of David Oistrakh and Yehudi Menuhin.
You have collaborated with some pretty important artists. Anyone, living or not living, you’d love to or would have loved to work with?
I have been fortunate so far to collaborate with almost all the artists I have wanted to – from Lord Yehudi Menuhin and Stephane Grappelli to Herbie Hancock, George Duke and Stanley Clarke. One person I would have loved to collaborate with but never got the chance was Jascha Heifetz.
After performing across the world, have any places stood out as being most memorable?
I enjoy performing in different countries and different venues because each audience is different, and my playing is influenced by the energy of the audience. It was very memorable being the first Indian to perform in places like Iceland and Romania, taking Indian culture forward. I also love playing at venues like the Lincoln Center in New York, Royal Albert Hall in London and Esplanade in Singapore.
What do you hope your audience, including the one at the Cleveland Museum of Art on October 4, walk away feeling after your performance?
I hope audiences appreciate Indian music, but also feel the universality of music as a whole. My aim is always to connect emotionally with an audience, on a plane beyond notes and compositions, where they can just feel the music and relate to it.