Gulzara Shakir, Shweta Iyer, Shruti Iyer, Aida Bisengaliyeva (from left to right)

Scaling New Heights

With a sweeping victory across multiple categories at an international competition in Dubai, students of the SOI Music Academy bring home laurels and memories.

The SOI Music Academy, devoted to the resolve of imparting education and training to young, promising musicians, recently completed 10 glorious years. In a land where Western classical music is still burgeoning, the academy has nurtured young minds and created a thriving space for students to blossom into artistes of tomorrow.

Aliya Agarwal

Over the years, the academy has made its mark in concerts at the NCPA, an international tour and at global competitions. Earlier this year, the SOI Academy Orchestra garnered generous praise from renowned conductor Maestro Zubin Mehta upon his visit. The most recent feather in the cap for the academy is the impressive performance of its students at the Jumeirah Sounds Seventh International Youth Competition held in Dubai in November 2023.

The students of the SOI Music Academy competed with over 100 participants from around the world. The seventh edition of the competition—the first one after the pandemic—was a dazzling affair and saw participation from several countries, including Turkey, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, among others.

Dalai Kapri with teacher Aruzhan Bisengaliyeva

This year, the competition introduced new categories as well as masterclasses for a more well-rounded experience. Disciplines like wind and percussion instruments, oratory and fine arts were received with enthusiasm in their debut year and students represented the academy in numerous categories, winning medals across the board. Piano, a category in which the competition was stiff, also saw students garner both prizes and praise. Please refer to the table on the following page for a list of all the winners.

Gauri Khanna with teacher Margarita Gapparova

The teachers form the backbone of the academy, steered by SOI Music Director Marat Bisengaliev. Clarinettist Ruslan Galilov told us that this was the first time the students of wind and percussion instruments were competing. This was no deterrent to their prize-winning performances. However, Galilov believes that the journey to the competition is the most important part of the process. “They have just come back, and I can already say they seem more mature as musicians,” he says.

Ruslan with Rianna and Ishaan

The string instruments students fared exceptionally well. Shweta and Shruti Iyer, who travel religiously from Pune for their lessons at the academy, won the Grand Prix and First Prize in violin respectively. Violinist Gulzara Shakir, who trains the sisters, says, “My students are each other’s strengths.” She recounts Shweta’s unfamiliarity with the concept of Grand Prix. “Once she was explained what she had just achieved, she was ecstatic,” Shakir chuckles.

Kanushi Ghuwalewala with teacher Igor Avdeev

Olga Vyhodceva trains the NCPA chorus and has been mentoring Aliya Agrawal for two years now. They work on voice production, solfeggio, form analysis, mastery of nuances and musical phrasing. She credits Agarwal for putting in the work. “Competing is a very different yet important emotion for these budding musicians,” she elaborates.

Percussionist Igor Avdeev, who coaches students in xylophone and drums, concurs with his fellow teachers that students gather experience through such platforms and learn from their peers from other countries.

Sanjit Lodha Tirumkudulu with teacher Igor Avdeev

Vyhodceva also rightly points out that the ardour and support from the parents allow for these experiences to happen. Their unconditional investment in their kids is what turns possibility into opportunity.

On another level, the zeal to learn, compete and win is also an indicator of the country’s growing appetite for Western classical music. Pianist and teacher Aida Bisengaliyeva tells us that the eminent jury panel made it a point to applaud the flair and dedication with which the Indian participants performed.

Tarini Kheruka

A school, Shakir reckons, tends to become a world within itself so international exposure is crucial. She elaborates, “They need to step out of the comfort of home. These are musical playgrounds for kids to meet fellow musicians, make friendships and witness music being made.”

Student Category Prize Teacher
Shweta Iyer String Instruments: Violin Grand Prix Gulzara Shakir
Shruti Iyer String Instruments: Violin 1st prize Gulzara Shakir
Gauri Khanna String Instruments: Cello 2nd prize Margarita Gapparova
Siddharth Khanna String Instruments: Violin 3rd prize Osman Yarullin
Aliya Agrawal String Instruments: Cello

Academic Vocal

Fine Art

Oratary Arts

3rd prize


1st prize

1st prize

1st prize

Yulia Gallyamova


Olga Vyhodceva

Kanushi Ghuwalewala Wind & Percussion Instruments: Xylophone and Drums 1st prize


Igor Avdeev
Dalai Kapri Wind & Percussion instruments: Flute 1st prize Aruzhan Bisengaliyeva
Ishaan Subramanian Wind & Percussion instruments: Clarinet 2nd prize Ruslan Galilov
Rianna Chheda Wind & Percussion instruments: Clarinet 3rd prize Ruslan Galilov
Sanjit Lodha Tirumkudulu Wind and Percussion Instruments: Xylophone and Drums 2nd prize Igor Avdeev
Tarini Kheruka Piano 2nd prize Aida Bisengaliyeva



This piece was originally published by the National Centre for the Performing Arts, Mumbai, in the January 2024 issue of ON Stage – their monthly arts magazine.