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For a musician seeking to gain orchestral experience in India, playing with the Kolkata Youth Orchestra, for their concert at the G.D. Birla Sabhaghar, Kolkata on the evening of the 21st of July, was indeed an enriching experience.

The Kolkata Youth Orchestra is a sixty-member strong orchestral ensemble, directed by its founder Sanjib Mondal, with the primary aim to foster young talents towards a high degree of professional musicianship. The orchestra has the experience of having played an extensive repertoire such as W.A. Mozart’s Symphony No. 25, F. Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1, Op. 11, Vivaldi’s Concerto for Two Violins in A Minor, etc.  The orchestra has had collaborations with a number of international artists such as cellist Avery White, pianist Panos Karan, flautists Zach Tarpagos and Ana Chifu, violinist Rintaro Miyashita, classical guitarist Michael Patilla and many more.

As a violinist with orchestral training primarily in Delhi, the first thing I noted was that KYO possessed a uniform talent pool, with many of the musicians being accomplished soloists in their own right and some, with musical experience ranging beyond three decades! It would be nearly impossible to find a gathering of such talented, indigenous musicians in Delhi. Never did I feel isolated in KYO, not even once; in fact they welcomed me into the orchestra and I did my best to integrate myself into their group.  The preparations for this concert took over a month, with an emphasis on extremely high-performance standards and focus on the most intricate details. The programme planned was diverse and challenging, both for the soloists and the orchestra. Intense practice sessions were scheduled in order to maintain the level of performance expected.

Kim, having played earlier with KYO, felt right at home during the practices. It was possible for him to work out exactly how he wanted to communicate his interpretation, ensuring that the orchestra duplicated his thought process. The highly decorated melody, the lyric character of the rondo and the subsequent dramatic leaps followed by descending scales and arpeggios were executed by Kim fluently. His interpretation provided a range of tonal colours with a creative use of rubato and tempo variations.

The concert opened with the dramatic first movement of Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor (K. 466) by W.A. Mozart, one of the only two pieces, written by him, in a minor key. The strings started off quietly in syncopated rhythm, building on a tremulous forte, after which the theme was taken up by the piano. Pianist, Mitali Saraf, a Master’s graduate from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, masterfully explored the impassioned themes within the concerto and demonstrated her virtuosity in the rapid arpeggiated sections and the ascending-descending runs littered throughout the concerto. Despite a few hiccups, the continuity of the piece remained undisturbed.  The cadenza played by Saraf was Beethoven’s own cadenza (WoO 58) for this concerto and was presented in a thought-provoking, passionate manner. Saraf managed to put up such a spectacular performance after only a single day’s practice with the orchestra! That whole day was spent solidifying our coordination and ensuring an overall good show in case of a mishap, which of course never occurred.

The programme then turned towards the vocals. Meeryung Hall, wife of the US Consul General, Kolkata, a trained western classical vocalist with more than 25 years of experience in solo recitals, gave an endearing rendition, accompanied by Pramanick, this time on the piano, of O mio babbino caro from Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi.

The next piece was Beethoven’s Romance for Violin and Orchestra in F major, Op. 50, with the soloist Paul Kim, a fourth-year undergraduate student of the Oberlin Conservatory of Music. Kim, having played earlier with KYO, felt right at home during the practices. It was possible for him to work out exactly how he wanted to communicate his interpretation, ensuring that the orchestra duplicated his thought process. The highly decorated melody, the lyric character of the rondo and the subsequent dramatic leaps followed by descending scales and arpeggios were executed by Kim fluently. His interpretation provided a range of tonal colours with a creative use of rubato and tempo variations.

Photo Credit: Victor Roy

The orchestra was finally allowed a chance to rest, as Saraf, Kim and Pallab Pramanick, KYO’s concertmaster, presented Prelude, Gavotte and Waltz from D. Shostakovich’s 5 pieces for 2 Violins and Piano. Uncharacteristic of Shostakovich’s grim tones, these pieces show warm lyricism. The piano serves mainly as an accompaniment, with the violins interchanging melodies and harmonies with each other. The trio’s technical security and the tonal qualities explored led to a harmonious result.

The sacred choral composition by John Rutter is a restrained and simple melody intended to, in the words of the composer, ‘touch the hearts of people outside the limited circle of contemporary music aficionado’.

The programme then turned towards the vocals. Meeryung Hall, wife of the US Consul General, Kolkata, a trained western classical vocalist with more than 25 years of experience in solo recitals, gave an endearing rendition, accompanied by Pramanick, this time on the piano, of O mio babbino caro from Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi. In the opera, the song is sung by the young Lauretta as she pleads with her father to allow her to marry the love of her life. Hall then followed up with Somewhere over the Rainbow from the movie ‘The Wizard of Oz’, with Kim joining in by adding his own melodies on the violin. To add to the charm of East meeting the West, Soumyajit Das, accompanied by the KYO and Sourendro Mullick on piano, sang a few Bengali classics such as Jodi tor dak shuney keu na ashe by Rabindranath Tagore and Sur’ero ei jhor jhor jhor jhorna by Salil Choudhury.

The highlight was marked by KYO’s exuberant performance of Warrior Legacy, a dynamic composition, reminiscent of the Pirates of the Caribbean Theme, by the American composer, Soon Hee Newbold. The musical evening was wrapped up with The Lord Bless You and Keep You performed by the KYO and the Kolkata Community Choir. The sacred choral composition by John Rutter is a restrained and simple melody intended to, in the words of the composer, ‘touch the hearts of people outside the limited circle of contemporary music aficionado’. From my time with KYO, I have come to understand that this is indeed what they do: to ensure that everyone is exposed to the joy of music. It was truly a great experience having worked with them. I look forward to their future concerts, in the capacity of a performer and as an appreciator of classical music.

Photo Credit: Victor Roy