United States based Hindustani classical vocalist Usha Kallianpurkar sang last week in Auckland under the aegis of the Mohan Nadkarni Foundation’s fifth Mohan Nadkarni memorial concert. It was her first performance in New Zealand.

Usha presented two bada khayals (full-length renditions) in raags Puriya and Bhupeshwari in that order before and after the interval. Steeped in classicism of the traditional Kirana gharana (a school of singing in India’s Uttar Pradesh state), her presentation was reminiscent of renditions of the great old masters of the gharana. (One of the biggest names of this gharana is the late Bharat Ratna Pandit Bhimsen Joshi.)

At the conclusion of her Puriya, the auditorium resounded with peals of applause from the knowledgeable audience at the Grey Lynn Library Auditorium. The concert, which was broadcast live on social media platforms, also drew fulsome praise from watchers far and near.

Her post-interval Bhupeshwari, which also goes by the name Pratiksha, is a raag that is rarely performed these days. Her excellent rendition inspired a few members in the audience, particularly singers, students and teachers of Hindustani classical music in Auckland to express their interest in learning the composition that Usha presented.

Usha also sang a Khamaj thumri and concluded with a moving rendition of a popular Marathi abhang (a devotional composition of a medieval saint-poet of Maharashtra), to the delight of the audience, many who were left with moist eyes.

Auckland’s well-known classical percussionist Manjit Singh accompanied Usha on the tabla with his characteristic finesse while Samir Bhalodkar provided excellent sangat on his Samvaadini. Both accompanists are very experienced and have been accompanying local and visiting artistes for several years. Vocalist Seetha played the tanpura and gave superb vocal support, that came in for praise from Usha herself.

Usha began learning music at an early age and at a critical juncture in her early musical training, well-known music critic and musicologist the late Mohan Nadkarni, encouraged and guided her transition to the pure classical form particularly the style of the Kirana Gharana. She trained under Pandit Firoz Dastur, the doyen of the Kirana gharana.

Usha has performed at prestigious venues in the US, including the LearnQuest Classical Music Conference at Boston, Indian Academy for the Performing Arts in New Jersey, Ravenia Music Festival in Chicago, The Lincoln Center, The United Nations, Museum of Art in Philadelphia, Moravian College of Music and William Patterson University, to name a few. Usha was invited to perform at the Rietberg Museum in Zurich and in Sydney, Australia.

Last Saturday’s concert was hosted by the Mohan Nadkarni Foundation – a New Zealand charity that encourages young artistes in traditional performing arts and strives to find platforms for them – in association with the Migrant Heritage Charitable Trust (Might-I).