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Meeting of Minds and Music at Huvilla tent in Helsinki
Bombay Jayashri & Eero Hàmeenniemi share stage to enthrall Finnish audience

“On the morning of August 24 at Helsinki (in Finland, I was entering the Avanti! Philharmonic rehearsal room. Eager steps took me from the foyer towards the room. As I started hearing the tuning of a thirty-member orchestra, my feet started scraping the floor pulling back in momentum, swept away by the sheer volume of music emanating from the room. When I finally entered the room, I could see a sea of instrumentalists- violin, cello, viola, double base, clarinet, trumpet, recorder, flute, trombone and piano and, of course, the maestro conductor John Storgards and lead violinist Minna Pensola- all in unison rehearsing for the concert scheduled four days later.

Rehearsals progressed day after day and I felt a deep sense of gratitude to my parents and teachers for supporting me; and Eero (Eero Hàmeenniemi), the Finnish music composer, for trusting me with this mammoth opportunity. Incessant rehearsals for several hours each day in the midst of musicians with an infectious passion to create melody- all culminated in the premiere of Rain and Red Earth.”

That was Bombay Jayashri, a renowned Carnatic musician, vividly describing her experience when she performed in Helsinki at the famed Huvilla Festival Tent on August 28th. Situated in the heart of Helsinki, beside a bay, the Huvilla tent was built in 1995 and has since been the undisputed venue of architectural beauty where artistes from across the globe perform.

For Hàmeenniemi, the concert was the result of nearly two decades of creative nurturing and an effort to bring together music of “different traditions.” In doing so, he was “trying to write music that would not just be a combination but a unified whole. Hàmeenniemi’s endeavour, titled `Rain and Red Earth’, had five songs from the Tamil classic “Kuruntoghai”, the mellifluous voice of Jayashri rendering Carnatic music (with her accompanists- mridangist Poongulam Subramaniam, ghatam S. Karthick and violinist Embar S. Kannan) collaborated with the Avanti! Chamber orchestra conducted by John Storgards and led by Minna Pensola and Heikki Nikula on the violin and bass clarinet- each of who have excelled in their respective fields. While the poems (lyrics) were sung in Tamil, there was a Finnish translation available for the audience.

When he was only 16 years old and read the book `The Life Divine’ by Sri Aurobindo, little did Hàmeenniemi know that India would be so integral to his world of music. For thirty years now, he has been coming to India. ``I was very fortunate to study Tamil with the very eminent scholar Prof. Sundaramoorthy,” he says in his response to questions on e-mail. ``Tamil works”, according to him, represent a world of immense beauty and psychological depth.

Bombay Jayashri, in a short interview to TARA, delineates the experience of this confluence of music forms.

The Finland festival – what was your experience?
Bombay Jayashri: It has been a dream come true - to perform live with the world renowned Philharmonic Orchestra.

What was the theme of the concert?
Bombay Jayashri: Western music and Sangam poetry on love from Kuruntoghai.

How tough was it to perform in a western fusion symphony concert?
Bombay Jayashri: First few rehearsals were tough, especially because I am used to closing my eyes in my concerts. Here I had to keep it all open all time to follow the conductor maestro.

What was your component of the concert piece?
Bombay Jayashri: It was a dialogue. I was doing the Tamil poetry in composed and free form. All well planned and structured.

What kind of practice had gone into this effort? How did you align to the new team?
Bombay Jayashri: I was working on it for six months. Eero came to teach me last December. Since I have a piano at home, we could rehearse. It took me 10 days to understand his concept. The audience, co-artistes and conductor of the orchestra were all new. Conductor John Storgards, lead violinist Minna Pensola with Avanti! Chamber Orchestra- a complete new team to perform with. But I realized we have one language in common - music and a passion for adventure in music.

What do you think had won the hearts and minds of an entirely new breed of audience?
Bombay Jayashri: The blend was unique and sincere and had textures native to each style and form of music. Dialogues between the violinist Minna and vocalist were flowing in a free style.

It is reckoned that instruments have universal appeal, and are especially suited to the international audience, where there is no language barrier? What is your perception post-Finland experience?
Bombay Jayashri: Language and phonetics carry a lot of music in them too, and the final expression that emanates when music and language meet is unparalleled. It is not necessary that one understands it. I enjoy Michael Jackson, Mehdi Hassan, Sinhalese music and even Afghan music, which I had heard recently.

What was your happiest moment and if you may recall the most difficult moment in the experience?
Bombay Jayashri: My happiest moment was that as a Carnatic musician I could adapt to the style and nuances of Western music, thanks to my training in different systems such as Hindustani, a bit of piano, western music, film music and so on. I was delighted at the opportunity to rehearse and perform with maestro John Storgards, Minna Pensola, Avanti!, the Philharmonic Orchestra, and certainly to sing the composition of Eero. The most difficult part was to follow the sign of the conductor- something that we are not trained to do in our form of music.

What was the key learning experience for you from this concert?
Bombay Jayashri: Music is universal. Nourish a dream and prepare for it, giving it your 100 per cent. And, nothing less than beautiful will happen.


Good music will always make an impact, says Eero Hàmeenniemi
Sangeetha Shyam
I read the article on the Finnish concert by Bombay Jayashri. Some months ago, a friend of mine told me about how this Kurunthogai poem was written on the London bus interiors. "Red Earth and Rain" and this Kurunthogai would have a lot of scope if researched. I am so stunned that it has already been worked upon by a Finnish music director!

Kala Iyer
Read the piece. I am really proud of Bombay Jayashri on this achievement.

Jyothi Mohan -
Since a lot of Carnatic music is based on manodharma sangeetham, was there any scope for it in this well-structured, rehearsed and conducted concert? Was the soul of Carnatic music visible throgh all that orchestration? Would it not be akin to film music, which uses extensive orchestration?

V.P. Sadagopan -
The raga column is wonderful. Report on the Helsiniki festival and the interview with Bombay Jayashri are extremely readable.

Shubh Suri -
As an NRI living in Helsinki since 1966 and an ardent lover of Indian classical music - Hindustani & Carnatic - I was naturally looking forward to hear Bombay Jayashree's recital here. After having presented numerous programmes on Indian music over Finnish Radio for almost 40 years, my pre-concert expectations this time were immense. She had been in Finland seven years ago and her performance then as an eminent vocalist was beyond words. In this recent concert at Helsinki, she excelled once again in the first half, when she assured me of her talent as one of the best Carnatic music vocalists after M.S. Subbulakshmi, the favourite vocalist of my youth in South India. Her recital with the Avanti Philharmonic orchestra at the Huvila Tent was, however, marred by the bad acoustics of this venue designed primarily for Rock concerts, where decibel levels seem to be more important than the content and quality of the musical performance. Incidentally, this was also the opinion of the experienced classical music critic of Finland's leading newspaper Helsingin Sanomat, in his review of the concert. Hopefully, something is learnt from this experience and future concerts of Bombay Jayashree are held here in real concert halls suited to such serious classical music. Finlandia House is normally the venue for other such classical music concerts in Helsinki.