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Longtime Tampa music series from India in jeopardy

Vocalist Sikkil Gurucharan

Swaralaya

Vocalist Sikkil Gurucharan

A longstanding Tampa series of music from India may have its finale this weekend with a performance by vocalist Sikkil Gurucharan. Organizers of Swaralaya, which has presented three or four concerts of South Indian classical music a year since 2001, are uncertain if they can continue because of declining attendance and financial support.

"We are going to decide after this concert if we can keep giving concerts," said Raghupathy Sarma, who has been involved with the series since its beginning. "Our attendance has fallen to about 50 people per concert, and if we don't get more support, we will simply close."

Swaralaya has been a valuable resource of world music through the years, specializing in Carnatic music, one of the two classical music traditions in India. It has brought in top-level Indian musicians, such as sax player Kadri Gopalnath (for an outstanding 2003 concert that I still remember vividly), violinist Avasarala Kanyakumari and singer Sudha Raghunathan. Gurucharan, this weekend's performer, comes from an important musical family in India and is considered one of the foremost young Carnatic singers.

Sarma, a retired biochemistry professor born in India, acknowledges that South Indian Carnatic music can be a tough sell. "It's an acquired taste, a very complicated kind of music that I have listened to all my life," he said. "People say they'd rather listen to Bollywood music, and if Bollywood singers come here, they can attract a big audience."

The other Indian classical music is Hindustani, from the northern part of the country, and its most famous interpreter was sitar player Ravi Shankar. "I like North Indian music, but I don't quite get the ragas," Sarma said. "They all have a slow tempo. In a two- or three-hour concert, they'll play just two or three ragas. In a South Indian concert, they'll play 10 or 12 ragas."

There is an audience for Indian music in the bay area. In April, Zakir Hussain and Shivkumar Sharma, a pair of well known Hindustani classical musicians, drew a crowd of 897 to the 1,042-seat Ferguson Hall at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa.

Swaralaya — the name combines "swara" and "laya," Carnatic music terms for "tone" and "tempo" — presents Gurucharan, along with a violinist and percussionist, at 5 p.m. Saturday at the College of Public Health Auditorium on the USF campus in Tampa. $20 per person, $30 per couple and free for children under 12. Dinner available for nominal charge. CDs for previous concerts are $5 apiece. Sarma may be contacted at (813) 926-6307 or sarma.raghu@gmail.com.

Youth orchestras: A pair of bay area youth orchestras wrap up their seasons with concerts on Saturday.

• Ensembles of the Pinellas Youth Symphony play Robert Shelton's Danzas Cubanas, the finale of Sibelius' First Symphony and a Richard Strauss horn concerto, with soloist Kaitlyn Reiser, at 3 p.m. Saturday at the Palladium Theater, St. Petersburg. $10. Information: pysmusic.org.

• The Tampa Metropolitan Youth Orchestra has two separate performances at 2 and 4:30 p.m. Saturday at the USF concert hall on the Tampa campus. The 4:30 concert is by the advanced full orchestra, with William Wiedrich conducting, and features Nathan Lee as soloist in Saint-Saens' Cello Concerto and Brendan Sill as soloist in Mozart's Bassoon Concerto. $8, $12. Information: tmyo.org.

John Fleming can be reached at fleming@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8716.

Longtime Tampa music series from India in jeopardy 05/08/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 8, 2013 6:52pm]

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