The SOI's performance at the Usher Hall, Edinburgh

From Triumphs to Tours

Much has transpired between the SOI’s maiden tour of the U.K. in 2019 and its upcoming one this November and December. Mr. Khushroo N. Suntook, Chairman, NCPA, reflects on the orchestra’s growth in the intervening years.

Not too long after the Symphony Orchestra of India’s tour of the U.K. in 2019, the dreaded Covid-19 pandemic was declared. It was fortunate that we were able to complete the tour musically before it all came to a standstill. Since then, after intense preparation by our musicians, a stronger and more mature set of players has emerged. Thereafter, a succession of concerts at a higher level than before kept emerging and in a way, unashamedly, more and more tried-and-true professionals were keen on joining our orchestra.

During the SOI’s UK tour of 2019, Mr Khushroo Suntook was gifted an autographed baton of the great conductor Georg Solti by his wife Lady Valerie Solti

This is a common phenomenon when a group of musicians comes together to develop their own style and, if sufficiently accomplished musicians may not be available locally, international players are gathered. And this is no shame because our own players, developed locally, start playing at a higher level. Needless to the say, the same applies to the young players who join us from the academy. Perhaps, we should lay that criticism to rest.

Examples of this sort exist even in that most British of games, football, where many of their top premier league teams have only a handful of Englishmen and are populated by champions from Europe, South America, etc.

The quality of our orchestra has often surprised musicians who come to either conduct or play with the SOI. A prime example was the visit of Zubin Mehta. He was so pleasantly surprised with the result that he has planned to re-visit us soon.

The Autumn 2023 Season was a great success assisted by the excitement around the NCPA’s commissioning of a triple concerto for the tabla, sitar and bansuri played by the three great maestros—Zakir Hussain, also the composer, Niladri Kumar and Rakesh Chaurasia. The brilliant playing was enhanced by our virtuoso Marat Bisengaliev and lent lustre to the season. We can safely say that it was one of the most successful seasons of the SOI in living memory. The same forces are now preparing to go to the U.K. for an eight-city tour.

A mention should be made of the progress of our academy of music where the standard of playing is improving at a rapid pace. Let us hope that soon many of the students will be in the main orchestra.

Chamber music played by our resident musicians is proving popular and their dedicated audience, particularly at the Prithvi Theatre, bears testimony to the power of music to draw people with all sorts of tastes and inclinations. We are proud of our association with Kunal Kapoor and his team.

The integration of music with other arts and sports is gaining ground and the recently planned ‘Olympics in Reel Life’ has found a fit place in the NCPA.

We are not all things for everybody, which is something we are criticised for, but we hope to be many things to many.

This piece was originally published by the National Centre for the Performing Arts, Mumbai, in the November 2023 issue of ON Stage – their monthly arts magazine.