© NCPA Mumbai

10th Anniversary season – A cornucopia of delights

A watershed period, the 10th anniversary performances of the world famous Symphony Orchestra of India. Beg, borrow or buy tickets for the remainder two concerts at the iconic new opera house in Mumbai – the Jamshed Bhabha theatre. This theatre is not to be confused with the Royal Bombay Opera House, also in south Bombay, which is set to open its doors to a new audience some three to four decades after its closure. What this Opera House will have to display will be a challenge for the NCPA and let’s hope that the two marry forces to strengthen the performance venues of musical and theatrical events.

However, back to the point on this hearing mid September 2016, the SOI is ready for truly international levels. The achievements have been due to the singular vision and deep devotion of the chairman of the NCPA and chairman of the SOI as well, in the form of the redoubtable Khushroo Suntook. This modern day impresario has now achieved for himself a feather in the cap as the single most important person in the performing and recreative music, arts and theatre worlds in the country.

At this moment I am still recovering from an outstanding assault to the ears. The first time the Assistant principal conductor Zane Dalal took the podium with a bounce in his step and he started with a brief introduction to what we were to hear. It is unusual for conductors to speak to the audience but here Zane is to the manner bone. His command over the language and deep knowledge of history and the way historical events shaped the lives and compositions of the great composers. His introductions were brief and to the point, yet getting to the heart of the matter to facilitate in understanding the music with fresh ears. This amount of attention to detail is rarely possible with conductors less familiar with the score as Mr. Dalal is. He showed total command of respect from the orchestra and his gestures were immediately interpreted by the orchestra with full subtlety, specially in the slow movement (Funeral March) of the Mahler Symphony no. 1.

A daunting programme of excerpts from Humperdinck’s opera Hansel and Gretel, including the overture and Mahler’s Symphony no.1. But Zane is not to be chickened out. He surmounted each challenge with extreme vigour and the music won hands down every time. A truly marvellous achievement which left me breathless and wanting for more.

A brief recap of the first two concerts of the 10th SOI season. Unfortunately the conductor did not seem to have his hand on the pulse of the orchestra, in sharp contrast with Mr. Dalal offering on 22nd September 2016. Zane has worked with this orchestra in its many reincarnations virtually since its inception. Kristóf Baráti had the necessary incandescence and virtuosity to do full justice to Paganini’s concerto no.1 op.6. – such a tawdry piece full of violinistic hijinks. Why would anyone choose to learn such a work when there are such great violin masterpieces, which for some reason get left by the wayside. A thumbs up however for the serenely beautiful temperature, liquid sounding winds and incisive strings.

The second concert conducted by Brabbins went better. The orchestra acquitted itself extremely well with a silken sound in the Tannhäuser overture and Venusberg music. The planets by Holst is a show stopper and was delivered as search in its teutonic and Anglo-Saxon sound, very convincing on the whole that sometime sounded under rehearsed. The off stage chorus in the last movement made an effective ending to an often brash brassy sound. See you at the next two concerts, particularly at the Gala concert on 30th September 2016.