Music is often the key to understanding a world that often defies explanation. It’s true language is that of peace. As Daniel Barenboim said in 2006, a musician is an integrating figure. And, another famous figure of history, Nietzsche said, “Life without music would be a mistake.”

Chiragh, the concert of the South Asian Symphony Orchestra, with Viswa Subbaraman as conductor,  was held at the National Centre for the Performing Arts in Mumbai on the 26th April. The Vice-President of India, Shri Venkaiah Naidu, speaking on the occasion, said: “Music ..transcends geographical boundaries and unites people.”  At the heart of Chiragh, was our desire to perform the integrating role of music among musicians drawn from our region of South Asia, and the diaspora of South Asians from far-flung places across the world. This was not just a symphony orchestra, the mission of Chiragh was to convey a message to the world, that South Asia is an integer, we have much more in common than that which separates us. If there is a Spirit of South Asia, it shone through Chiragh, which in Hindi and Urdu, translates into the lamp that illuminates the path of all of us wayfarers on our journey into the future. You can read the blog by one of our youngest musicians, Anusha Madapura, all of 14, here. She quotes from Leonard Bernstein who once said: “This will be our reply to violence, to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly,  than ever before.”

Orchestras teach their members to play with passion and discipline, they inculcate a sense of proportion, they reach into the deepest recesses of our heads and hearts, they teach us how counterpoint sorts itself out in mellifluous harmony. The image of musicians (ranging from ages twelve to seventy) from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka together with their fellow orchestra members from the United States and Europe, of South Asian descent, had a radiance and message that was powerful and strong, a radiance that spoke of peace, a coalition of artistic expression, never seen before in our region. Kashmiri and Afghan musicians performed with their traditional instruments on the stage. That evening in Mumbai, we created a vivid sense of what utopia looks like.

The videos from Chiragh can be accessed on the South Asian Symphony Foundation’s YouTube channel.

The attention of Serenade readers is specially drawn to two pieces that were premiered at the concert. The first is “Hamsafar: A Musical Journey Through South Asia” by Lauren Braithwaite of the Afghan National Institute of Music, Kabul.

The piece combines melodies from various countries of South Asia to create an orchestral arrangement that brings alive the Spirit of South Asia. The second piece is “Bhadke” specially created for Chiragh by Kamala Sankaram, the Indian American composer and inspired by “Shola Jo Bhadke” a Hindi film song of the nineteen fifties.

This concert was an offering of music to the more than one and a half billion people who inhabit our region. Our message is that peace is more than just a dream. In the future our orchestra will continue to demonstrate the centrality of this message. As the words of the invocation song, Maitreem Bhajata performed at the event said: “Cultivate friendship to conquer all hearts” and practice “restraint, generosity and compassion.” Music shows us the way.