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Composer Long On Name--and Credits

September 14, 1985|JOHN VOLAND | Voland, a recent graduate of the University of Iowa, is a Times intern. and

The name is Dr. Lakshminarayana Subramaniam, and while it's a name not likely to replace Beethoven, Tchaikovsky or Stravinsky in the near future, it is one that is making ever increasing appearances as composer on programs all over the country.


--His "Fantasy on Vedic Chants" for violin and orchestra, commissioned by Zubin Mehta and composed earlier this year, will be premiered by the New York Philharmonic this weekend as part of that city's celebration of things Indian, "India!" Subramaniam, a locally based Indian classical (and American jazz) violinist who has performed Indian music from Seattle to Tokyo and from Djakarta to Cairo, will perform the solo violin role and Mehta will conduct.

--His "Spring Rhapsody," composed in 1984, will be performed by the Philadelphia String Quartet as part of a local tribute to Indian culture tonight at the Embassy Theatre before an audience that will include Gov. George Deukmejian and Mayor Tom Bradley.

--Subramaniam will perform his 1981 Concerto for South Indian violin (much like a Western one but tuned lower) and orchestra with the Los Angeles Philharmonic New Music Group on Nov. 4 as part of the 11-day New Music America Festival.

Other commissioned pieces are in the works--four already for 1986--as are concerts (he will give a command performance for the King of Thailand in October), recitals and jazz albums. A husband and a father, and a former member of the faculty at the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, Subramaniam loves being busy.

"I sometimes feel that I can't stop, that I must keep making music," said Subramaniam quietly, in his Panorama City home. "But I still have a lot of music to write, and to play, so I hope I will not be running out of things to say for a while yet."

This from a self-effacing yet intense man of 38 whose full involvement with Western classical music only began with graduate school at CalArts in 1973--though he'd been studying violin, along South Indian methods, since the age of 4.

Subramaniam contends that this dualistic training has put him in the perfect position to write music "that is truly innovative."

"What I am most interested in at the moment," he explained, "is taking the spirituality of Indian classical music--the basis of which dates back at least 2,000 years--and utilizing the techniques of Western classical music to, so to speak, give it flesh."

Much of his compositional work thus far revolves around the interplay of the complex rhythmic patterns of Carnatic, or Southern Indian, classical music--which employs string and wind instruments in addition to the virtuosic drums and the drone instruments--and the less improvisatory modern Western system.

"It makes musical sense to combine the two," Subramaniam noted, "because Carnatic music has become increasingly formal, less improvisatory. For instance, the construction of some of the Carnatic ragas resemble sonata-allegro form, with the recapitulations, the secondary themes, and so on. So this way, the combination of the two is almost natural--except for the cultural associations."

These cultural associations are something Subramaniam has been able to approach from both sides. He has been active as a torchbearer of Indian culture and has germinated any number of American musical forms with the Carnatic touch. He has not only concertized widely as a Carnatic musician in this country, but has also made jazz/fusion records with the likes of Maynard Ferguson, Larry Coryell, and the Crusaders.

"That was another way for me to take in the musical culture," commented Subramaniam. "A lot of contemporary classical stuff was going into the music I was playing with these guys, so I learned a great deal. And it was also very much fun." Now that he's down to "the one or perhaps two jazz albums" he records per year, Subramaniam is getting his compositional career in full swing. The trouble, however, is a familiar one to working musicians: How do you find the time to write when you're so busy concertizing?

"You make the time," asserted Subramaniam. "You use whatever free time you have to the utmost. For example, almost the entire second movement of my Fantasy was written on a plane trip from L.A. to Bombay--which I can tell you is a very long flight. And, stupidly, I had all my staved paper in the baggage I had checked. So there I was, sitting in a coach seat and scribbling like mad on napkins, magazines . . . whatever was in reach!"

Three days before its premiere Mehta and the New York Philharmonic were giving its premiere.

"I had finished all the orchestral material first, so that the parts could be copied and given to the players," he said with a mock grimace of exhaustion.

"They are all very interested in giving this piece of mine a go, and of course Mehta is. He told me he had heard the piece of mine played here at the Pavilion (the Double Concerto) and wanted something for New York's India festival. I was very pleased--and still am--to be working with him."

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