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Today at 2:00 AM, my favorite violinist of all time, Parur Sri M.S. Gopalakrishnan died in Chennai after a respiratory arrest. I last got to speak with him a year ago while I was in India over the holidays. At that point in time, he was already at the point where in order to play, he needed to prop up the scroll on a stand, but in spite of that, he never lost his edge. Rhythm and pitch were still as laser-precise as ever even at absurd speeds. I had spoken to him at the time about possibly rigging an armature that could make it easier to self-support without having to have something setup at a stage site... assuming he would still keep on playing as he ever did. Which he did right up until a week ago.
Of the three great violinists of South Indian music, he is actually the youngest, though only by 1 year from Lalgudi Jayaraman and 3 from T.N. Krishnan... yet, he's easily the best of them all, being able to do more with the instrument in terms of following vocal intonations to the finest detail... being able to imitate the sounds of other instruments (e.g. flute, shenai, guitar, etc.)... and even speak whole sentences with his violin. He could play entire songs on a single string using a single finger. I've seen him break a string in the middle of a performance, and he'd just account for it by playing higher up on a lower string without stopping or even breaking rhythm for a moment. He's the reason I ever picked up a violin in the first place. And now he's gone. I never actually got to play with him, nor has he heard me play before, except over the phone, where I'd get a few pointers from him now and then and I'd try it out then and there (but of course, that amounts to trying out a handful of movements in isolation, not really playing per se).
A classic performance alongside his daughter --
In addition to being one of the greats of South Indian classical (Carnatic), he was one of the first to master both the North and South Indian classical styles (his father being the first ever) --
But to me, where MSG was at his best was when he was an accompanist to a singer. Main reason being that he could emulate those types of microtonal inflections so flawlessly, and he had the imagination to be able to expend on it in a way that kept stylistic modes intact but still made it distinctly his --
A sad loss of a necessary addition to the world of music. Thank you, Sri MSG for every minute of your 75-year career. Thank you for raising the art form to another level. I may have lost a friend today, but the inspiration is as it ever was.
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