Stories from of our recital and workshop tour in India
Late 2019, I’m having dinner with Martha-Maria Mitu and Lars Fischer and I tell them something that I’ve been saying for years, ‘You have to come with me to perform and work with students across India. There’s something magical happening there’. Having had the privilege of being a small part of the artistic landscape of India in many different forms (as an educator, a student, a performer and facilitator), I’ve never stopped to be in awe of the many ways in which creativity manifests itself here.
So 3 years, a complex scheduling juggle between individuals/institutions, and about 400 email exchanges later, we were all able to come down together (joined also by Antonia Thwaites and Chiara Naldi) to India.
Our first stop was Kochi, where we were invited to witness the Kochi Muziris Biennale and rehearse for our concerts. The colors, art and sounds of the city around New Years and especially for the biennale were absolutely amazing to experience. Apart from the beautiful art and backwaters, we also managed to find ourselves in the middle of the Cochin Carnival parade, which was filled with fantastical ornate costumes and nearly 60,000 thousand people in attendance. Definitely not my first rodeo, but the others seemed to be amazed by the sheer numbers of people. The best way to experience India, in my opinion.
We soon left Kerala for Karnataka where we were invited by three amazing organisations, the Bangalore International Centre (BIC), Christ University and the SaPa Music Institute. Things were going to plan, until we received a call two days before our concert asking if we could possibly do two shows, as the concert was oversubscribed by 500 people!
So we did two back to back shows in the beautiful Bangalore International Centre to completely packed audiences, who also turned out to be the most wonderful singers when they joined us in the encore! We also got to learn about the amazing projects and the momentum of organisations such as South Asian Symphony Orchestra led by Nirupama Rao and the Bangalore School of Music (Jagadeesh MR).
The following two days we had the amazing opportunity to work with theatre and music students at Christ University and SaPa – Subramaniam Academy of Performing Arts. It was so inspiring to be with them and discover the many ways in which they beautifully occupy the liminal zone between Indian and Western classical arts.
In the middle of all of this, we were invited for dinner at the Bangalore Club, and the Italian Consul General’s (Alfonso Tagliaferri) residence – who’s definitely got some singing chops himself!
Finally, to top it all off we got invited to magical tour of the Lalbagh Gardens by the amazing botanist Vijay Thiruvady, alongside the eminent environmentalist and biologist Kamal Bawa.
This honestly wouldn’t have been possible without the immense support, time and energy put in by truly passionate people such as Prateeti Ballal with the BIC, Jay Rajendra Raythatha and all the incredible professors and teachers at Christ University and SaPa. I couldn’t thank them enough for their kindness and generosity!
Also, please pay no attention to our Ocean’s Eleven-esque airport picture above.
Soon our whirlwind tour continued to Pune, where we were welcomed by the storied Poona Music Society.
We quickly found that the Mazda hall is an absolutely gorgeous space to perform in and for a western classical musician, provides some of the best acoustics in India.
Aside from giving us the some of the coolest flower garlands and being the most wonderful hosts – Jehangir and Binaifer also let us try out their 100 year old Steinway and you can see the joy in Martha’s face below!
Mumbai was to be our final and most ambitious concert of the tour. Asad Lalljee (Curator for Mumbai Opera House) had come up with the brilliant idea of having our recital as a part of the Mumbai Art Gallery Weekend and for us to collaborate with the wonderful sculptor Raj Shahani. This collaboration required a 3D animation of Raj’s sculptures that were then being projected onto delicate clothlike materials, all of which would then be synchronized with our live performance.
During the two day’s leading upto the concert, we were very graciously invited by the Swiss Consul General (Martin Maier) for dinner and then took to town to go to the Dadar flower market (just before Sankranti), Bandra and of course the Gateway!
From managing to find a wonderful pianist to page turn at the very last minute, to how the colors and animations of the sculptures played beautifully into the stories we were telling through the music – the concert was an absolute blast and everyone’s work paid off! In every concert, we tried to get the audiences involved in the encore, but this time we also tried to compose a piece with the audience!
The day after our final concert, Martha-Maria and I spent the entire day working with children devising and composing some of the most fantastical music-theatre pieces you would have ever seen. This was in partnership with VAIPA and Avid Learning, and the second batch included children from ‘Apun Ka Club’ and ‘Dharavi Rocks’ – all of whom warmly welcomed us and were open to taking a crazy creative journey with us for the day!
Now it wasn’t all rainbows and fun, as eagle eyed readers might wonder why Antonia (our soprano colleague), wasn’t in any of our Mumbai adventures. This because her stomach decided enough was enough, and she came down with a severe case of food poisoning. This unfortunately caused her to miss performing with us at the opera house! She’s doing much better now though and is back in London (but only after spending 5 days at Breach Candy Hospital!). She has promised to come back to Mumbai and stick to only toast before a show.
Concerts like this are always a team effort, and many beautiful people supporting these endeavors – the Swiss Consulate, Royal Opera House of Mumbai, the incredible team at Avid Learning and especially Asad Lalljee (without whom, this wouldn’t have been possible) and Raj Shahani (for sharing his wonderful art with us!)
Looking towards the future, I honestly can’t wait to come back and find ways of having meaningful artistic relationships with all the brilliant institutions and individuals we’ve met!