Among all the musicians from Southern India, U.Shrinivas occupies a particularly significant
position. He is the first ever known exponent of mandolin as
a Carnatic Music (Indian Classical Music) instrument.Also known as Mandolin Shrinivas (only the greatest of performers are permitted to place the name of their instrument before their own last name), he has singularly elevated the status of this instrument that has only recently became a part of Indian classical music. It should be stated, though, that the five-string Indian mandolin is quite different from its western counterpart, looking somewhat similar to a small electric guitar.
Shrinivas was born in Palakol in West Godavari district in Andhra Pradesh, India on February 28, 1969. As a very young boy Shrinivas was a normal child in school except that he seemed to have an ear for music. Then one day, when he was only six years old, his parents came home to find him playing on his father's mandolin. Inspired by the boy's interest in music, Satyanarayana taught his son what little music he knew, and Shrinivas began playing light music on the mandolin.
Subbaraju, a classically trained musician and a disciple of the famous musical stalwart Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar, who had taught music to Shrinivas' father sensed the young boy's musical aptitude and decided to teach him classical music. He had no experience on the mandolin, so he would sing Carnatic music which Shrinivas would then play on the mandolin. In this way the young musician developed his own style.
Mandolin Shrinivas has often been compared to some of the world greatest prodigies.
"Some of you have heard or read about exceptionally gifted children, our own Mandolin Shrinivas, Sir Yehudi Menuhin, Beethoven, Sir Isaac Newton, Picasso, Madam Curie, the list is endless" (courtesy THE HINDU, Sunday, May 3, 1992)
To Shrinivas, the mandolin was his first love. He expended all his latent talent to conquer this little known alien instrument. Such was the proficiency he attained that his father soon realized that what he had on his hands was a "child prodigy" and no less! Sparing no effort and time, he swept his son on his sail to recognition. The creative energy in Shrinivas swirled like a tidal wave around the Carnatic music world. The way critics gushed, it was hard to tell if they were talking about a child or a god! "He was hardly nine. Innocence was writ large on his face. But the music that he produced on the little brittle mandolin was unbelievably Carnatic and classical to the core, throwing into the shade even the top instrumentalists. He even operated on offbeat summations revealing virtuosity of a high order. That he could conceive in his mind the raga in all its grandeur and inherent niceties and transform them into musical extravaganzas had to be seen and heard to be believed! It was clear that there was a divine force expressing itself through him in his tiny instrument".
Shrinivas got his first big break in Gudivada in the Krishna district of Andhra Pradesh, during the Sri Thyagaraja Aradhana festival. He was barely nine then.
Thereafter his career surged ahead. The Indian Fine Arts Society in Chennai (formerly Madras) afforded him the first major metropolitan concert during the musical festival in December 1981. Shrinivas soon felled all before him like a hurricane, as sabha (a society of carnatic music
enthusiasts) after sabha vied with each other to present this prodigy with the mandolin - an unheard of phenomenon in the halls of Carnatic music. A worldwide concert tour followed.
At the West Berlin Jazz Festival in 1983, he was privileged to give a repeat performance of his mandolin, which was telecast live by German TV. At the invitation of the Sydney Tamil Sangham, he went to Australia in 1984, and then to South East and South West Asia, the USA and Canada. At the Festival of India in Paris, he was allotted one hour to play on the instrument. But when the hour ended, the audience forced the organizers to extend his recital by another hour. Such is the irresistible pull of Shrinivas' art. Leading organizations vied with each other to shower him with honors and titles.
His latest concert(as I write this) was on Sept.29 , 2003 at the Orchestra Hall, Minneapolis, MN along with John McLaughlin and Zakir Hussain.