VS Narasimhan and the Madras String Quartet to perform in Chennai after five years
There are not many musical groups from Chennai who have stuck around in the scene as long the Madras String Quartet (MSQ). Formed in 1993 by violin maestro VS Narasimhan, the MSQ was responsible for ushering the age of Western-Carnatic fusion in the musical landscape of Chennai, with a sound that’s distinctly different from the kind of fusion sound created by stalwarts like AR Rahman, and much later by groups like Indo-Soul of Karthick Iyer. Now the quartet is all set to perform in Chennai next week, in a concert titled Carnatic Conversations on Western Strings.
As the title clearly says, this programme is all about Western-Carnatic fusion. “Playing Carnatic music in the string quartet format was relatively a new attempt. It was received with high appreciation from people with an understanding of both forms of music. One early challenge was to find a viola player for our quartet, and then later to find a cello player who can attempt Carnatic music,” shares VS Narasimhan. “For the viola, we needed someone with the knowledge and proficiency in both Carnatic and Western Classical, while also having the ability to read alto-clef and simultaneously play Carnatic gamakas,” says the primary violinist of the group, which has performed across the country as well as in various parts of Europe.
Incidentally, the MSQ is performing in Chennai after five years. “We will be revisiting the popular numbers and perform fan favourites like Mokshamu and Krishna Nee Begane,” says Narasimhan. Reflecting on the early days, he says that it was when cellist Sekar and he became close friends and shared a passion for chamber music that they started their attempts to establish a string quartet. “We were able to bring on board our violinist, and when one of our founding members BJ Chandran switched from violin to viola, that’s when our group was formed,” he continues, adding that ever since then a lot has changed in the Western Classical fusion scene. “A lot more opportunities have come up over the years, and there’s definitely more exposure for artistes. I can see a lot of collaborations happening between both worlds. Also, access to internet resources has enabled us to listen and learn more,” he opines.
As for their latest album, Varnams for String Quartet, Narasimhan and Sekar has recorded the tracks on electric violins, viola, and cello. “We fuse Western Classical elements with Carnatic music for string quartet without diluting or compromising the authenticity of Carnatic compositions. Unlike other popular fusion groups, this is a fresh attempt and remains to be unexplored. Over the years, the basic format and elements of our music have remained the same. As we do more performances, we might just add new compositions, but the essentiality of MSQ will never change,” assures Narasimhan.
At Goethe-Institut, July 12. 7 pm onwards.