Kadri Gopalnath : Emperor of the Saxophone

Photo annonçant le concert du 23 mai 2006 au Théâtre de la Ville, Paris.

Indian Classical music has had a very long and colourful history. Indeed, its roots can be traced back to the 4th century BC ! In this long and interesting historical journey, other forms of music have influenced its growth, dynamism and character.
The popular sitar is said to be derived from the Persian seh-tar. The tabla, which is an integral part of North Indian (Hindustani) classical music concerts, was perhaps influenced by the tabl, an Arabic instrument. More recently, in the 19th century, the violin was introduced to Indian classical music. However, in all of these introductions, the instrument was always adapted not merely adopted. For example, the adaptation of the violin to the Indian cultural tapestry is so complete and total that most Indians would naturally assume that the instrument is indigenous ! In recent years, other instruments like the clarinet, mandolin and guitar have also made their entries.
The most dramatic of these is, however, the saxophone. Its champion is the Emperor of this instrument, Kadri Gopalnath, the first musician to introduce and popularise it as a mainstream instrument in Indian classical music.

Today, after 50 years of post-colonial independence, Kadri Gopalnath represents a unique facet of Indian classical art: its ability to adopt, imbibe, and adapt even though it is one of the oldest classical music systems in the world.

As a fifteen-year-old, Kadri Gopalnath, a budding classical musician, had the opportunity to listen to a brass band associated with a Palace. He was immediately attracted by the sound of the saxophone and it wasn't long before he started learning to play the instrument. It is not easy to get the necessary glides, oscillations, note ornamentations and embellishments on an instrument like the saxophone. But, given his mastery over the instrument and his intrinsic knowledge of Indian classical music, Kadri Gopalnath is, today, the undisputed master of the instrument in Indian classical music.

Kadri Gopalnath

Kadri Gopalnath was born into a musical family. His father played the nadhaswaram, the Indian equivalent of the clarinet. By the age of ten, Kadri was quite proficient at playing this instrument. For a further five years he studied vocal music in Mangalore (India). After hearing the Palace band play at Mysore, Gopalnath had his heart set on learning the saxophone. His father purchased a saxophone and got the young boy tutored by the Palace band's saxophonist, Mr Lakshmi Narasimhaiah. Although, his training in the nadhaswaram was useful, there were vast differences in the two instruments; Gopalnath had to work hard for many years to firstly master the instrument and then, adapt it to play classical music.

In 1975 Gopalnath came to Madras where he was tutored by the renowned musician, T. V. Gopalakrishnan. In 1977, he gave his first concert in Madras. His fame soon spread all over Southern India and he was soon a favourite at festivals and concerts. He grew in stature as a cult figure of immense popularity all over India when he had the opportunity to provide the background scores for a very successful film called 'Duet', which has a saxophonist as its hero.
Since then Kadri Gopalnath has been a true phenomenon in the world of Indian classical music. He has had the opportunity to participate in major festivals including the Berlin Jazz Festival, the Jazz Festival in Prague, the Music Halle Festival in France and the International Cervatino Festival in Mexico. He has played with many leading jazz musicians including the saxophonist, John Handy. He was the first South Indian classical musician to be invited to perform in the BBC Promenade concert in 1994. He has also toured the USA, Europe, Australia and South East Asia extensively. He has been awarded many important titles including 'Saxophone Chakravarthy' - The Emperor of Saxophone.

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