Monday, February 06, 2017

Like Father, Like Son

Ambi Subramaniam, the son of the legendary violinist L. Subramaniam, is a worthy heir

Photo by Albin Mathew 

By Shevlin Sebastian

At the lobby of the Crowne Plaze hotel, Kochi, on a recent Tuesday afternoon, Ambi Subramaniam takes out his violin and places it very delicately, like as if it is a new-born baby, on a low glass-topped table. “You can understand that this is very precious to me,” he says.

There is a story behind the violin. Years ago, his father, the acclaimed violinist L. Subramaniam was doing his master's at the California Institute of the Arts in Santa Clarita, USA. One day, when he was walking down a road, he spotted a violin, with a dislocated back, hanging from the ceiling of a music shop.

Somehow, he got the feeling it could be a good instrument,” says Ambi. Since it was in bad shape, the shop-owner sold it to L. Subramaniam for a mere $100 (Rs 900 at that time).

Thereafter, Appa fixed it and started playing it for years,” says Ambi. “But now I use it. This is a 1731 violin made by the famous Italian violin-maker Carlo Ferdinando Landolfi. The more you play, the better is the sound and the more valuable it becomes.”

Ambi had come to Kochi to give a two-hour solo performance at the invitation of the Gosri Gana Sabha. Asked whether he has butterflies in his stomach, the 25-year-old says, “My advantage is that I started so young, so I always feel confident on stage. But after a point you realise that it is not really in your control. You practice, you do your best, but you cannot predict what happens on stage.”

Indeed, there are unexpected reactions. Once in Durban, South Africa, while performing, with his father, during the One World Music Festival, in 2007, there was a very vocal audience. “Before us, there was a well-known Brazilian guitarist, so everybody was dancing, and the adrenalin was flowing,” says Ambi. “When we came on, we started with classical Indian music. Amazingly, they started whistling during the alaap!”

In contrast, at the Radio Hall, in Warsaw, Ambi played for half an hour and got no response. “Everybody was silent,” he says. “But when I finished, they gave me a standing ovation. That is their style. They don't want to disturb the artiste.”

Asked about the charms of the violin, Ambi says, “It is one of the most versatile and adaptable instruments. That is why it is used from Carnatic to Western. The violin is everywhere.”

And Ambi is also everywhere, performing all over the world. Of course, his father has played a powerful influence on his life. “He is my guru and a legend in his own right,” says Ambi, who lost his mother when he was only three years old. “The highest point in my life occurred in Lille, France, in 2007, when Appa and I did a performance together. At night when we returned to the hotel, Appa looked at me, held my hand, and said, ‘Now you are a musician’.” 

(Sunday Magazine, The New Indian Express, South India and Delhi)

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