“I feel I have been here only to do the work which god has sent me for”
– Dr. L. Subramaniam
Dr. L. Subramaniam, India’s foremost violinist, has put Indian violin on the international map. His contribution to Indian violin is immeasurable and invaluable. From introducing new techniques in playing the violin to popularizing Indian violin among Westerners, this living legend has been able to reach across cultural lines to diverse audiences from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds and nationalities.
He has performed all over the world and has conquered every audience with elegance and virtuosity of his style. Dr. L. Subramaniam is the only musician who has performed/recorded Carnatic Classical Music, Western Classical Music, both orchestral and non-orchestral, composed for and conducted major orchestras, and collaborated with some of the greatest musicians, from different genres of music. He has established himself as a force that is strongly Indian, but universal in nature and approach. He has inherited the tradition of Carnatic music, from his father and Guru, Professor V. Lakshminarayana who was the inspiration and driving force behind him, and the primary reason for Dr. Subramaniam to dedicate his life to music.
His career as a childhood prodigy brought him into contact with the greatest musicians and he soon established himself as a master of the violin. He has performed/recorded with some of the greatest Indian musicians of all times including Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar, Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, Alathur Srinivasa Iyer, T.R. Mahalingam, Palghat Mani Iyer, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, Ustad Bismillah Khan, Pandit Jasraj, Ustad Allah Rakha, Pandit Kishan Maharaj, and the list goes on…
Subramaniam has made historic collaborations and recordings with artists like Stephane Grapelli, Yehudi Menuhin, Herbie Hancock, Jean-Pierre Rampal, Joe Sample, Stanley Clarke, George Duke, Larry Corryel, Tony Williams, and Maynard Ferguson.
he has received several awards and honors, including the coveted Padma Bhushan (2001) and the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award for “The Most Creative Artist” from the President of India and Violin Chakravarthy from the Governor of Tamil Nadu. He has been awarded the “Nada Chakravarti” (Emperor of Sound) from H.H Sri Ganapati Sachchidananda Swamiji at Trinidad (West Indies). He has also received an Honorary Doctorate from the Bangalore University (2003).
The living legend’s concerts are truly marvelous landmarks which are a real inspiration to the audience. One can hardly believe that such technique and emotive playing can exist.
Till date, Dr. Subramaniam has produced, performed, collaborated, or conducted over 150 recordings including a five-volume Anthology of Indian Music. Euphony, his book on Indian classical music and traditions, co-authored by his late wife Vijayashree, is part of his efforts to spread awareness of his heritage. His albums include, From the Ashes, Eulogy, The Southern Sky, a pure Carnatic Ragam-tanam-pallavi fare and many more.
He is the founder/director of the Lakshminarayana Global Music Festival, the biggest global music festival in India.
Residing today in Bangalore, Dr L Subramaniam dreams of taking Indian violin to greater heights.
I started on the violin more by chance. My father, V. Lakshminaryana, wanted me to become a vocalist, but an attack of diphtheria and the consequent prospect of loss of voice, made my father put me on the violin. In 1958, my family moved from Ceylon to Madras.
Music has been a part of life for me. Right from the start I was introduced to all kinds of music by my father. Our family did not socialise much; our life revolved around music for my father thought the music was everything.
Our house was always filled with music. My father sang and played violin, my elder brother played the violin, my three sisters were accomplished singers, and my mother played the harmonium, the veena and also sang.
Now, my wife Kavita is a very popular artist in her own field and a great person. My daughter Seeta is also an extremely talented singer and has been performing and, of coure, my sons Ambi and Raju are talented too and have a bright future.
I studied medicine at the Madras Medical College; my parents were keen that I should get a good education. I wanted to master theory and compose music. I applied to the California Institute of the Arts to do a four-year MA course but I could complete the course in nine months.
Guru / Inspiration
My father and Guru Professor V. Lakshminarayana has been the greatest inspiration in my life; whatever I am today is only because of him and his blessings.
My father always felt the need to raise the status of Indian violin for he knew its potential. Initially, my brother and I would perform in small social gatherings. After some time, my father decided that we should go beyond that framework, and explore and work towards not only making violin a solo concert instrument but also proving the potential of Indian violin to Westerners. My father always told me that I should put the Indian violin on par with the Western violin and innovate in a way Western musicians would not be able to. Those inspiring thoughts of his define my life’s ambition.
Struggle to raise the Indian violin to its current status
In India, the violin was never considered as a solo concert instrument. I am very proud of the fact that my guru and father, V. Lakshinarayana, had a great hand in raising the Indian violin to its present status. Even in our own country it took some time for people to accept the violin as a solo instrument. When I was in America, I found that artists there always thought of the violin as their instrument and that they were the best violinists. They were not even aware of the Indian violin and would not even want to accept it. This hurt me and made me decide that I would prove a point or two to these people. Technicalities, spirituality, culture, emotion and tradition are what make our violin different and our music is a vast ocean to explore. I really had to work hard to bring this to their notice by introducing new techniques.
My technical ability and the unique musical phrasing of our music resulted in several Western musicians wanting to work with me.
Difference between the Indian violin and Western violin
The South Indian violin is almost identical to the Western violin, but differs from it in tuning and playing position. It is traditionally played, sitting cross-legged with the scroll placed on the artist’s right ankle, the back of the violin resting on the artist’s left shoulder (collar bone, or chest), thus giving the performer an unencumbered left hand with which to play Indian musical ornamentations such as the Gamaka.
The tuning of the instrument is as follows: tonic, dominant, tonic (octave higher) and dominant (octave higher), from the fourth to the first string respectively, the tonic being variable for concerts. There are so many aspects – the way you hold the instrument, the pressure you apply on the various strings, the pressure you give the bow, the emotions you give for a particular not, as also the spirituality, culture and so on – that make the Indian violin different from the Western violin.
Future of the Indian violin.
My generation has seen the Indian violin rise to an international status as a solo instrument on par with the Western violin. This has opened up a wide range of possibilities and new avenues in the international scene for the Indian violin.
My concerts are attended by people from all age groups. It goes to prove the increasing public interest in music. Many youngsters are coming forward to master this instrument and this is another great sign.
I will still continue to work and perform, collaborate with international artists and do whatever I can to take this further.
Memories of first concert
I was six when I gave my first performance. It was a terrifying experience. We were living in Sri Lanka at that time. My father was teaching music there. He was invited to perform at a temple festival in Jaffna. My father told the organizers that I would be playing. The organizers were hesitant but my father insisted that I would play. There was a huge crowd and I was nervous. But once I began to play, there was great appreciation.
Performing with other great artists
I am truly blessed to have played with the likes of Yehudi Menuhin and when Stephane Grapelli came to listen to me at a performance in Paris I was overwhelmed. We then worked together, “Coversations” happened in a day, just like we were talking to each other.
Lakshminarayana Global Music Festival
In 1992, Vijayashree (my late wife) and I launched the Lakshminarayana Global Music Festival in memory of my father. Now an annual feature, it is held primarily in India, but has also been held in different parts of the world.
The main aim is to bring the living legends of Western and Indian music on one platform and make music without border differences, give the best of music to society and share the joy of music.
The Lakshminarayana Global Music Festival is unique because it is the only festival where eminent artists from around the globe perform on the same stage. Different cultural traditions blend harmoniously to spread the message of peace.
Artists who have participated in the Lakshminarayana Global Music Festival include: Steven Seagal, Lord Yehudi Menuhin, Ustad Bismillah Khan, Ustad Allah Rakha, Pandit Kishan Maharaj, Arve Tellefsen, Pandit Ram Narayan, Ghulam Ali, Malavika Sarukai, Roar Engelberg, Iver Klieve, Christian Eggen, Jean Luc Ponty, Pandit Jasraj.
In 1997, the Lakshminarayana International Award was instituted. The first award was given to Lord Yehudi Menuhin. The other artists who have received this award are Pandit V.G. Jog, Sri Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, Smt. M.S. Subbalakshmi, Jean Luc Ponty and Pandit Jasraj.
My latest compositions are based on the global fusion concept titled “Beyond Borders”. I have created compositions based on music from different continents. This features my wife, Kavita Subramaniam, Stephane Grappelli, Herbie Hancock, George Duke, Jean Luc Ponty, Stanley Clarke, Larry Corryel, Billy Cobham, Corky Seagal, my daughter Seeta Subramaniam and others.
About the Bangalore audience
Wonderful audience. Very knowledgeable and appreciative. Well behaved. It is great to perform in Bangalore. People turned up in such large numbers for this year’s global festival that we had to take special permission to make some sit on the stage.
To young artists
Music without the spiritual element is mere entertainment. One cannot achieve anything without being spiritual. I am very spiritual and totally believe that I am here only to do the work which God has sent me for.
Young artists should also realize that though it is important to stick to tradition there should be constant innovation to improve techniques that would open new doors. Only then can music evolve.
I have always had a dream to start a Global Academy of Performing Arts in Bangalore and very soon this is going to be a reality.
The aim is to develop a world-class, one-of-a-kind institution in India, to teach and propagate global music and prepare artists of international caliber. This institution will have affiliations, branches and connections with universities and institution across the globe. Great musicians from everywhere will come and teach.