V.V. Sundaram, better known by the moniker ‘Cleveland,’ has been in the business of music for over three decades now. One of the founders of the annual Cleveland Tyagaraja Aradhana, and the CEO of a firm based in India, Sundaram is as comfortable with balance sheets as he is with Begada and Sindubhairavi.
“My earliest memory of Carnatic music is hearing my sisters learn music from Muthunatesan Bhagavatar (the great GNB was at one point his disciple). The melodies haunted me and though I never learnt music, I could appreciate the nuances even then.
When I was 24, I moved to the U.S. to study at the University of Pittsburg. There were not many Indians and there was a void in the Indian classical arts department. Along with my friend V.K. Vishwanathan (who was with NASA then), I organised a dance recital by Vyjayanthimala at the University’s auditorium. The auditorium was free and so it did not burn holes in our student pockets! And the response was quite encouraging.
That gave us the confidence to invite more artists from India. The first coast-to-coast tour which I helped put together was in 1971 with Lalgudi Jayaraman and N. Ramani. Then, we got Sheikh Chinna Moulana sahib, and T.V. Sankaranarayanan. And slowly, it became easier to get artists from India to do performance tours.
We started the Tyagaraja festival in Cleveland in 1978 with ample financial backing from like-minded rasikas. When I look back, I am amazed. I think prayer and faith can work wonders!
Do all these make business sense? Absolutely not. Anyway, we are not in it to make money. It is the sheer love for classical music and dance that pushes us year after year to play host to artists and festivals.
Personally, I am a great lover of yesteryear musicians – GNB, Madurai Mani, Semmangudi, K.V. Narayanaswami and M.D. Ramanathan. Two concerts that are still fresh in memory – the Lalgudi-Ramani show in New York in 1971, and Semmangudi’s concert at Mumbai’s Shanmukhananda hall also in the 1970s. They were power-packed and brimming with emotion. Imagine Lalgudi and Ramani in top form performing together yet maintaining their individuality! Similarly, Semmangudi was at the peak and his Simhendramadhyamam alapana was outstanding that day. Just one way to describe the concerts…top class!”