Composer Vivek Venugopal discusses why it is the musician and not the composer who adds flavour and life to a piece of music
Hyderabad-based music composer-producer Vivek Venugopal’s seventh album Reveries, Op. 7 featuring Shantanu Patel (piano), Tomasz Pajak (violin) and Tatiana Kritskaya (cello) is a set of five pieces spanning a spectrum of contemplative moods.
“The pieces put me in a dreamy, contemplative but lucid kind of state,” Vivek says. ‘An Affective Crossroad’ is about “contemplating the consequences of a choice that lies in front of us”; but his favourite is ‘Serendipity’ which “alternates between tense and jovial atmosphere” to depict how things tend to fall in place in life in strange ways.
Vivek (visitamusic.com) recorded two music albums including Reveries, Op. 7 in January 2020 but was compelled to postpone the release due to the pandemic. However, he did not stop creating, and is now working on his 13th album. “Earlier I had a nice balance of recording an album while composing new tunes for a next project but now the the mismatch is a bit too much. One wants music to come to life; it is almost meaningless if it just remains on paper.”Edited excerpts:
You once said — “Composers write music but musicians bring their own flavour.” What do you mean by it?
While the music is mine, it is worthless on paper. It is the musicians who give it life. Tomasz, Tatiana and Shantanu took the sheet of music and interpreted the pieces with respect to phrasing, tempo, dynamics, tone, articulation, colour and texture. All of this can make or break the music, irrespective of how beautiful it seems on paper.
There were specific instances where they went beyond what I wrote, especially with respect to articulations and tempo, and this led to spectacular results.
For instance, on The Eternal Dance of the Misfits, I had notated a section for violin as ‘flautando’, by which I had intended to mean a ‘flute like sound’, and Tomasz took that instruction and played the notes as harmonics, on the violin — which is basically a technique that takes the same notes on a higher octave and makes them sound shriller and thinner with a unique texture. In another instance, Serendipity was performed much slower than I had initially intended, and now I can’t imagine it in any other way because the slower tempo really brought out its depth and passion. There are many finer details that brought a lot of finesse to the pieces.
Tell us about your creative process.
I like to think of my music as a sonic autobiography or auditory memoir of sorts: a congregation of what I have felt, thought and perceived over a lifetime. I let life, people, events and circumstances influence my soul and this stimulus is then expressed in the form of music. The more I understood composition, the more my life got reflected in my music and the narratives.
You co-invented a musical instrument called Visitar…
Yes, along with luthier Erisa Neogy. Visitar is a steel string acoustic guitar; it has two extra strings — one higher and one lower than that of a standard guitar. I desperately wanted an instrument with which I could create denser and more harmonically sophisticated music, and I approached Auroville-based Erisa. To my surprise, he said it was possible, and lo and behold, I had a one-of-a-kind instrument!
How does one attract youth to classical music?
There is a growing community of musicians and listeners who are passionate about classical music in India. Of course, there are many more listeners and practitioners of the art form on the global stage.
I believe the greatest hindrance to potential talent in India is the lack of proper training. I also believe that in this world of commercialisation and diminishing attention spans, there may be fewer takers for more intellectual and sophisticated forms of music, irrespective of the facilities and teachers available. Nevertheless, I am optimistic about the future.
What is your next release?
My next release will be a set of six pieces for SATB Choir, Op. 8. When international travel restrictions are rescinded, I will record the two string quartets and L’Amour Fou, Op. 11. There is also my latest piece for 10 instruments, and a piece I had written for Wind Quintet called A Soiree for the Migratory Birds, Op. 9.