Western Classical Music in Modern India

By Sood, Akhil | Musical Opinion, January/February 2012 | Go to article overview

Western Classical Music in Modern India


Sood, Akhil, Musical Opinion


We are pleased to carry this most interesting report from one of India's distinguished arts commentators on a subject which is little considered in the West.

Contrary to popular perception, there exists a burgeoning movement of western classical music in India, with local as well as well-known international performers presenting concerts regularly at venues across the country, and a growing appreciation of the finer nuances of the art form. "One aspect that sticks out," says Andrew Watkinson, violinist of the renowned Endellion String Quartet, "is that the average age of the audiences is much younger in India. In Europe, the age is particularly high, especially for quartets." The Endellions performed in India as recently as October 2010, playing at the Beethoven festival at the National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA) in Mumbai, as well as at venues in Bangalore and Delhi. He states that there is a growing awareness among those involved in music education in Britain about the state of classical music in India: "Conservatories are taking notice, and each year they send associates to recruit students from India." Having performed in India in 1998 as well, Andrew notices that there is a noticeable increase in the appreciation of the classical arts. 'There's a feeling that India's a very energetic country pushing forward."

The NCPA

The NCPA, in Mumbai, is considered India's foremost multi-cultural centre which provides a distinguished platform for the performing arts, and has invited the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra, The Kodaly Quartet, The Ebene Quartet, The Endellion Quartet, amongst many others. It has also hosted the London Symphony Orchestra, the London Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, providing Mumbai audiences with exceptional exposure to some of the greatest foreign performers. "Western classical music is gaining popularity as India becomes part of a global community, because all music of all kinds will eventually become our collective global heritage. We must seek to expand the number of people we touch and create a universal appreciation for this universal art form," says Khushroo Suntook, the NCPA Chairman. The NCPA has undertaken several projects to increase musical appreciation. In 2009, the NCPA organised a series of lectures titled "Understanding Western Classical Music", which was received with a tremendous response, explains Khushroo. There are also several ongoing initiatives which reach out to parents of children who are learning music as well as adults who attend speciallycrafted lectures in music appreciation.

The Symphonic Orchestra of India

In 2006, Khushroo collaborated with eminent Kazakh violin virtuoso and conductor Marat Bisengaliev, putting together an international ensemble of musicians from India, Kazakhstan, Russia, and other parts of the world, forming the Symphonic Orchestra of India (SOI), India's first fully professional orchestra. The repertoire consists of a wide variety ranging from classical to modern-era music, as well as ballet, chamber music, and musicals, and in June 2010, the orchestra made its international debut, performing at the Fifth Festival of the World's Symphony Orchestras in Moscow.

Marat, who is the Music Director for the SOI, explains that the orchestra was created keeping in mind the lack of sophisticated infrastructure in India and to promote the culture of classical music in India. Aside from the orchestra, Marat also handles the educational aspects, training students and incorporating western teaching methods to enhance the creative scope of the musicians in India. He has incorporated the Suzuki method of training, which helps young students master string instruments. Other educational ventures undertaken by the NCPA, apart from the series of lectures, include individual training by the Quintet in Residence, Ensemble Training led by Marat and assisted by Zane Dalai, the conductor-inresidence for SOI, and a weekly series of lectures on appreciation and history of classical music held for Indian musicians. …

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