With the illustrious Dr. L. Subramaniam for a father, was it expected of you to follow his footsteps into music?
Music was always around me, ever since I was little. My father used to play at home and I used to try to imitate him. I started playing at age 3, and was on stage by age 6. By 13, I decided that I had to become a musician! My dad was my entire inspiration (I still try to copy him sometimes), but I was never pushed into it. I decided that life would be miserable without music, and I decided that music was what I had to do for the rest of my life.
Where was your first concert? Do you have any special memories from the time?
I first performed as a singer when I was 6 in Chennai. My first concert on the violin was in Sri Lanka when I was 7, but one concert that I will never forget came later that year in 1999. We performed at the Necklace Road for the festival that my father runs in memory of my grandfather (the Lakshminarayana Global Music Festival). It was New Year’s Eve 1999 and I was 7 at the time. There were 2,00,000 at the concert, and my dad asked me to start the concert with a solo.
Ambi plays with his father, Dr L. Subramaniam, at a concert in Seattle in September 2013
Growing up in a family of musicians, was the environment with two older siblings, who are also musically inclined, competitive?
Not really. We all perform different genres. My sister Bindu is an English singer songwriter and my brother Narayana, while he is a surgeon by profession, loves singing ghazals. We’ve always been interested in doing things together. In fact, my sister and I have recently launched a band called SubraMania. We have performed together in the past, but this time, we wanted to create a new sound and genre. Since my sister primarily sings English Jazz/Pop and I do fusion based on Carnatic, we thought it would be very interesting doing something together by combining the two and creating a new genre. We wanted to create a genre where both of us are equally comfortable. Composing for SubraMania has proved to very challenging!
How do you manage to do an MBA, study the violin and piano, and obtain distinction scores in all?
My father always made sure that no matter how little I attended school; I take it very seriously and do well. I guess I take a lot of pride in what I do (sometimes too much!). I’ve always felt that excelling in one field doesn’t give you the right to fail at other fields. To tell you the truth, I didn’t sleep very much during my childhood! Having said that, if focus on things you are passionate about and cut out other distractions, there is more than enough time.
Classical music – especially instrumental – is not something young people throng to listen to in India. They prefer rock concerts to pleasant, sit-down evenings with classical music. Do you think this puts classical music in jeopardy in this country?
I don’t think so. While the number of young people that I see attending one of our fusion concerts is undoubtedly more than that of classical shows, I don’t think classical music is in jeopardy. Having said that, I think steps have to be taken to introduce classical music to younger audiences. I recently performed with the Seattle Symphony, where they have a wonderful initiative where anybody under the age of 18 could enter the hall free. Most of the young audiences that do come to classical music concerts (I think all over the world) are those who have been exposed to classical music ever since they were little. I think exposure is the key.
‘Sripathe’, off Ambi’s debut solo album ‘Indian Violin’
Of the instruments you play, which is your favourite?
Violin for performing and the piano for composing
Who is your musical idol (apart from your father, of course)?
The late classical vocalist Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer and the incredible Russian violinist Maxim Vengerov
An artist you would like to collaborate with: Too many to name!
Whose music do you listen to when you’re not playing or composing? Anything from pop/rock to Polish village music to Indian classical depending on my mood. There are so many places to learn from.
Where would your dream performance be? Carnegie Hall or Hollywood Bowl
Ambi plays a composition of his father’s at a 2012 TEDx event
What is the biggest compliment you have received?
According to my father, there is a big difference between a musician and somebody who plays music. After a concert in Lille, France (when I was 16), he called me a musician. He then took back the compliment the very next show, but that’s a different story!
If anybody could listen to your music, from the past or present, who would it be?
Are you currently working on another album? Can you tell us something about it?
I recently released a solo classical album called Indian Violin. Feedback has so far been encouraging. I am currently working with my sister to finish our first ‘SubraMania’ album. We decided to make a rough cut of a few songs (we released See You Again on YouTube) and take our time to make a good final album. Hopefully it should be released by the end of this year. My sister and I are also fortunate to be working with Leslie Lewis. We are working on an EDM album with him that sounds fantastic. I hope we do it justice! This album should also be out soon.
SubraMania’s ‘See You Again’ featuring another Subramaniam sibling – Narayana – on vocals
Would you recommend a career in classical music for young people? What advice would you give for those interested?
Don’t do it for the money. Don’t do it for the fame. Do it because you cannot live without music, and any time spent away from music seems like an utter waste of time.