Nikhil Sardana: What inspired you to take on the Keys of Change initiative?
Panos Karan: Music is a powerful tool. It can be used to change lives, to improve circumstances and to bring people together. At the same time, music belongs to everyone, not only to those that have the means to buy a ticket and enjoy it, and as such, musicians have a responsibility to bring music not only to concert halls, but as far away as possible, to those that need it the most. I studied music for six years at the Royal Academy of Music, and while I learned so many things about the music I am playing, the most fundamental question of “why do we play music” was never answered. I can say with certainty now that classical music belongs as much in a schoolyard in the Amazon, or a slum community in India, as much as it does on the stage of Carnegie Hall in New York, or Queen Elizabeth Hall in London.
NS: Tell us about your work with the Kolkata Youth Orchestra.
PK: Keys of Change has been working in Kolkata over the last three years, actively supporting local musicians, and connecting communities around the city. We have supported the Kolkata Youth Orchestra since 2014, providing musical coaching by European musicians and performance opportunities for the Indian musicians. I firmly believe that the KYO has one of the strongest musical voices in the Indian subcontinent and its young musicians deserve international recognition.
In November 2014 we put together a joint performance with the KYO, attracting an audience of almost 700 people, something quite unique for Western classical music in Kolkata. This year we will be organising an International Music Programme, inviting eight musicians from five different countries (Japan, US, UK, Greece and Romania) to India, in order to work closely with the Kolkata Youth Orchestra, and present two concerts of international standard for the Kolkata audiences. I believe this will be the largest Western classical music orchestra to come together in Kolkata, with more than 75 musicians on the stage. I believe the mere preparation for a concert, an activity so simple yet so under-appreciated, is one that can really inspire and change lives.
NS: What does India mean to you? Why is our country important?
PK: India is a place of inspiration for me. I am fascinated by the extremeness of contrasts that overwhelm the sense of the visitors, in colours, sounds and smells, as well as the contrasts in lifestyles. I see India changing in front of my eyes, between my visits every year, and I feel more than ever now young people have a thirst to succeed and share with the world something very powerful and positive. This is why I think the work we do with the KYO is so important in India.
NS: Where is classical music headed? What is your advice for pianists in India and around the world?
PK: There has never been a greater supply of classical music in history. With today’s technology, and the way the world is connected, the level of musicians has increased dramatically, and one can find a virtuoso pianist almost in every corner. However, a bit of the spirit of the past is lost. Everything has to move very fast now, with millions of views on youtube, to a different repertoire available for every day of the week. Pianists these days should spend a bit more time re-discovering their spontaneity, and finding ways to express their real, unique emotions, without fear, and outside the pressure of the measurable success.