While searching for information about the symphony project of Raja sir, recorded in the year 1993, I found this somewhere in internet (Source Unknown); an interview by Michael N Townend who was an Orchestration Adviser and Music Producer for the Symphony project with the RPO.
If still there is someone who thinks that Ilaiyaraaja has done something wrong with symphony (or even if he or she thinks that it wasn’t a symphony at all) as it was his first experiment, please read this interview by someone who had seen many other symphony writers in his career has told about our own Indian music director, Dr.Ilaiyaraaja.
It is worth reading the full article.
Here it goes…
MICHAEL N TOWNEND was the Orchestration Adviser and Music Producer for the Symphony project with the RPO. An eminent composer, orchestrator and arranger, he works in a wide spectrum of music from Jazz, Pop, and Classical to films and TV serials. As music co-ordinator for this project, he first visited Madras in February 1993 for initial discussions with Ilaiyaraaja. He shares his experience in this article which was published in the 1993 Autumn News Letter of the Association of Professional Composers (APC), London.
Earlier this year I was fortunate enough to be invited to visit Madras as the guest of an Indian composer who is known-very well known as I later discovered- simply as ILAIYARAAJA. The reason for my visit was that enquiries had been made on the Maestro’s behalf to various bodies, organisations, orchestral management and associations (including our own APC) to investigate the possibility of arranging a recording here in Britain of a new work that he was intending to write. He wished, in fact, to extend his already prodigious output in a more positively artistic and perhaps, intellectually demanding manner by composing and recording a Symphony, in the hope that in this way, his considerable musical talents would reach a wider and more international audience.
In the event, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra had been selected to record his symphony, and my involvement as that of adviser on matters such as modern conventions in orchestration and recording procedures since I had been working closely with the RPO for some time previously. The Maestro wished me to advise him on matters such as the various strengths or weaknesses of the orchestra, and how best to write for such combinations, and in what form he should write to achieve the best results. It transpired that he had an incredibly busy schedule, which was why he requested that I visit him, rather than he visit us here in the UK.
Now, before the beginning of this year I had not, I have to confess, heard of neither Maestro Ilaiyaraaja nor any of his music. So it was with considerable curiosity (and perhaps even a mild degree of skeptical disbelief) that I listened to the CD titled “How To Name It?” which was handed to me by way of preparation for my visit to Madras.
My initial impressions on hearing this album were that the composer was clearly both talented, and well versed in many different musical traditions from all ends of the musical spectrum. There were strong influences from Bach particularly, and Mozart, and other composers from both Baroque and Classical periods of Western music, but also, quite properly as one would expect, influences from his own rich musical heritage with many complex and interesting rhythmic patterns and the use of ethnic scales, modes, stylistic devices, ornamentations and inflexions. This diversity and his fluency in using and combining such influences was very obviously one of his major strengths.
Thus prepared, I went to Madras with considerable respect for this man, but still retaining a degree of skepticism for what I suspected were the more extravagant claims for the magnitude of his output. Although I was aware of the scale of the film industry in India, I was still unprepared for the scene in Madras – particularly when compared to the sad decline of our own film industry here in Britain.
Meeting the Maestro at the film studious AVM where he has worked for many years with enormous successes, I was greeted by this quiet, gentle and kind man, who, with good reason, is held in semi-reverence by those around him, yet who was prepared to take time out from his busy schedule scoring for films to meet me and consult with me about matters relating to the planning and necessary preparations for the writing and recording of his first symphony.
The first eye-opener for me was learning that this particular composer was so popular with the film-going audiences in Southern India (whose enthusiastic appetite for the cinema equals only their love of cricket) that his photograph appears on the posters, billboards and advertising for the film – as large as the photos of the actors whose popularity and status he rivals. Apparently, his name attached to a film (and his picture on the publicity) guarantees the film producer at least five additional weeks retention in the cinemas. The public adores him, and as such, producers are constantly beating a path to his door; he can and does command as high a fee as he considers a film producer’s budget can stand – and he gets it.
I tried to describe for him the difference in the situation over here or in America; how many of the general public know or even care who wrote the music for most of our films, let alone would recognize and appreciate the composer’s picture on the billboards? I would imagine quite a few people would have heard of John Williams, but would they know what he looks like?
Naturally this pre-eminence in the industry allows Ilaiyaraaja great freedom, both artistically, in terms of the style of music and the instrumentation that he may choose to employ and the artists, but also editorially. What do I mean? Well this was my next eye-opener; the producer or director doesn’t tell the Maestro which music cues he will require, nor does he decide where they will begin or end, or what mood he wishes the music to help create or reinforce – the Maestro tells him!
This revolutionary approach certainly has one very positive effect, which is easily and instantly appreciated; there is much less time wasted in the early stages of planning and pre-production, and less hassle for the composer, who is not therefore subjected to delays while re-shoots or re-cut versions are prepared, nor made to suffer the criticisms and indecision of a “committee” of opinions.
My latent skepticism on being told that Ilaiyaraaja had scored the music for 700 films in 17 years all but vanished when I arrived at the film studios to observe him working on a new film from the outset. My awe and admiration for him increased when I realised that without the aid of lists of music cues, a music editor or even a stopwatch, the Maestro was able to compose accurately a piece for a particular film cue which fitted exactly not only the required timing but also the mood and pace of the action on the screen, heightening the tension if it was a fight scene, or enhancing with beautiful lyrical melodies the romantic mood of a love scene, or just adding spontaneously joyous excitement rhythmically to a dance scene.
Having written this piece in a form of short score – part Western notation and part Tamil – with full instructions for the orchestration, the players clustered round him proceeded to write their own parts out, and immediately sit down to record this piece. This practice itself accounts for the speed at which a film score can be completed (just two and a half days was his record) but this in no way diminishes the achievements of the composer, who brings such natural and intuitive talent to his work.
Although he says of himself that the music comes from God and he is merely the conduit for its transmission, it must be said that without his incredible ability to absorb influences and use them to such good effect, combined with his innate musical skills and finely-tuned ear, God might perhaps have sought a different channel of musical communication. As it is, all of India, not merely the South, must feel very proud of its native composer who has achieved so much for films and now in the wider sphere of recorded music.
The recordings with the RPO were extremely successful. The music contained so many beautiful melodies and exciting moments, and was found to be quite challenging by the orchestra, who were naturally unfamiliar with the Maestro’s style at first, but who soon became adept at its interpretation.
Many were expecting the music to display a more obviously “Indian” flavor, but since I was aware that Ilaiyaraaja had set himself the task of reaching the widest possible international audience and did not wish his work to be heard in the context of a “novelty item” or a fusion of East and West in ways which have already been explored, I was not surprised by the accessibility of the music to Western ears. Nevertheless, Indian influences there are in abundance in the way in which he has used rhythms, and certain stylistic and ornamentational devices, and I am glad that these are present in this, his first symphony.
It is truly a very accessible piece of music and one, which I hope, will be played and enjoyed throughout the world. I was very proud to have been involved both as an orchestration adviser, and as music producer to this project from the very beginning; from the moment that I first heard the exciting music of Maestro Ilaiyaraaja back in January 93. I hope our association will continue long into the future.