He’s been given the sobriquets 'Paganini of Indian classical music' and even 'God of Indian violin'. Dr L. Subramaniam noted violinist – composer is a living legend, a violinist who sends shivers down your spine with his mesmerizing solos and his playing techniques, compositions, orchestral fusion. Subramaniam, who has trained in classical Carnatic music and Western Classical, has composed and collaborated with several great performers like Ravi Shankar, George Harrison, Yehudi Menuhin, Stéphane Grappelli, Stevie Wonder, Jean-Pierre Rampal, and Herbie Hancock, among others. He has conquered every audience with the elegance and virtuosity of his style. His performing career has been filled with world class stages and accolades.
Not many know that the title 'Dr' in his name refers to his background in medicine. His father V. Lakshminarayana a seasoned violinist was insistent on a parallel education for Subra. It was only when a foreigner who met and head Subra play the violin, did he convince his parents to let him leave medicine for music.
Married for over 15 years to Kavita Krishnamurthy, the Bengalauru based couple travels the world touring for concerts with family at times and collaborating together at various venues. The duo also run a music institute Subramaniam Academy of Performing Arts in Bengaluru, and hosting the annual, The Lakshminarayana Global Music Festival, in honour of the violin virtuoso’s late father, V Lakshminarayana.
Verus Ferreira met up with the violin icon on the eve of his performance at the 25th anniversary of the Lakshminarayana Global Music Festival in Mumbai.
How has the journey been in these past 25 years with The Lakshminarayana Global Music Festival?
Over the last 25 years, the festival has become a very important part of my life. I initially thought it would be a single concert, once a year, but now it's become a tour and has been held in over 55 cities around the world. At times it's been difficult to sustain because we don't charge tickets and it’s largely funded by Kavita and I, but when we see the impact the Lalshminarayana Global Music Festival has had, it's worth it.
The festival is held in the memory of your late father and Guru Professor V. Lakshminarayana. What musical memories do you have of him?
My father was a great musician and a great teacher. He was a perfectionist and would wake us up at 5 am every morning to practice, he would take no excuses. Even when I had exams in medical college, according to him, that was no reason not to practice. His dream and vision are what still drive me today. He wanted the Indian solo violin to have a spot on the international stage.
How has Lord Yehudi Menuhin been a part of your music? What did you like about his music?
I used to listen to Lord Menuhin's music when I was growing up. My father would tell me how great he was. When I had an opportunity to collaborate with him, it was like a dream come true for me. And then we became friends. He was not only a great violinist, but a great soul. Throughout his life, he did so much good for so many people.
Which other violinist do you look upto, maybe anyone who has inspired you?
Jasha Heifetz. He was brilliant and technically perfect.
How do you balance your family life and professional life?
I don't think of them as two separate things. I love music; it isn't exactly just a profession. My family is a part of music and music is a part of my family.
Have any of your three children taken up to music?
My daughter Bindu is a singer/songwriter and my son Ambi is a violinist. They have a band together called Subra Mania, and I'm glad to see them do so well. My son Narayana is a gifted singer but also a head and neck oncologist. My granddaughter Mahati (Bindu's daughter) is five and she loves music and has been performing too. My son in law Sanjeev is a violinist. So there are a lot of musicians in the family.
You have played concerts with your wife Kavita Krishnamurthy? Which have been your most memorable performances together?
It's always great when we perform at the Lakshminarayana Global Music Festival, because it's "home".
Are there any other violinists from India, who you think can make it big in the international music circuit?
Ambi has been doing extraordinarily well as a classical musician. There is so much young talent in India today. Through SaPa we work with over 10,000 children and I see the remarkable talent that some of these young children have. I hope that we will be able to provide opportunities for all young talented kids who are able and willing to put in the hard work.
With technology taking over everything these days, do you think classical music still holds a charm for a youngster to think of making it a profession?
Yes. I see a lot of love for classical music wherever we go. Through a (Subramaniam Academy of Performing Arts) SaPa and SaPa in schools, we've developed curriculum and methodology to teach children as young as three. I believe the future of classical music is safe.
Have you ever thought of performing with your brother L Shenkar who plays the double breasted violin?
As you have mentioned just now, Shenkar and I are into two different musical styles. So I would not like to say anything.
Lastly what projects are you and your wife (Kavita) working on at the moment?
I'm writing a number of orchestral compositions to be premiered with orchestras this year, in addition to a full touring schedule of Indian classical music. Kavita is also doing a number of interesting projects including a new album.
Text and Photos by Verus Ferreira