© NCPA Mumbai

The Golden Road

Mr. Khushroo N. Suntook, Chairman at the NCPA, talks to ON Stage about what is in store for the audiences in a very special season of the SOI and their forthcoming tour of the UK.

Living in tropical Mumbai, not everyone might understand the significance of spring. But believe us when we say it is the season of hope and growth. It inspired the greatest of poets (Shakespeare, Wordsworth) and the greatest of artists (Van Gogh, Monet). And fittingly, the first SOI season of the NCPA’s 50th year, the Spring 2019 Season, is bringing with it not only some fantastic music but also heralding a new era of sorts. Mr. Khushroo N Suntook, Chairman at the NCPA, talks to us about the upcoming season, the much-anticipated UK tour and what it means for the NCPA to have turned 50 this year.

NCPA Chairman Khushroo N. Suntook © NCPA Mumbai

ON Stage: The SOI season has a rather interesting line-up. What would you pick as the highlight?

Khushroo N. Suntook: I think the highlight has chosen itself! The greatest work we’re doing this year is Beethoven’s Ninth. Can there be a greater highlight? Our orchestra has performed the Ninth a few times in the past and is familiar with it, so we’re all in for a treat. We’re also happy to have Martyn Brabbins conducting it. He is an excellent conductor.


OS: Martyn Brabbins returns to lead the SOI again this season. What would you say is most interesting about his style as a conductor?

KNS: You know, he is a highly disciplined, well-rounded and educated musician who has polished his art for two years under the tutelage of Ilya Musin at the Leningrad Conservatory. He is also comfortable with speaking in Russian and that has helped him with the SOI. He was such a success during his previous visit when he led the orchestra in the performance of Holst’s The Planets. The audience went crazy and the orchestra loves him. He is a performing musician himself, and so he is familiar with every instrument. In fact, during the rehearsals for The Planets, when a musician would have some trouble with a particular movement, he’d sit with him/her and sort it out. That is the sort of teacher that is very rare in an orchestra.


OS: The Ninth was a particular favourite of Dr. Bhabha. Given that this is the 50th year of the NCPA, was the Ninth a conscious addition to the season’s programming?

KNS: Well, it was definitely something we considered, but not a conscious decision per se. You know, when we formed the SOI, one of the first things he’d asked was when they’d be performing the Ninth. I told him that the orchestra would, but not for a few years since it is an advanced piece of music. We had planned the first performance in September 2009, and he passed away in May 2007. So he missed it by a couple of years, which was quite sad since he was very keen on hearing the Ninth.


OS: The season also has a performance of Zakir Hussain’s Peshkar, which will later be performed in the UK as well. Is that something you’re looking forward to?

KNS: Watching Zakir perform is always a wonderful experience. Don’t forget, Peshkar was commissioned by the SOI. He has played it with the SOI here at the NCPA and in Switzerland. He has also played it in America and London. It will be exciting to watch him perform the piece with the SOI during the UK tour as well. After all, he is one of the greatest performers of a percussion instrument in the world. He has magic fingers and yet, there are no calluses! And he is magic because he’s musical – that is something you don’t find in many percussionists. I remember this time where he was talking to us about the musicality of the tabla. To prove its scope, he played the theme of Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik on it and we were able to easily recognise the melody. Such is the talent and greatness of the man.


OS: Talking about the UK tour, how difficult has the organisation and planning been?

KNS: I’m very used to working in the UK. I’ve done business there, I’ve played tennis there, I go there every year for a month, I know a lot of people and collectors there. It is familiar grounds for me. And, if you’re going to cut your teeth on a tour, the UK in the winter is the best teaching ground. It is cold and draughty but a great experience overall.

It has been challenging, but we have worked very hard for it. We have worked it out as economically and as efficiently as possible to make this tour successful. It is rather cramped because we are doing too many concerts in the span of a few days only, which is not terribly good, musically speaking. Plus, one needs to factor in the cold and whether that will affect the instruments. At the end of the day, I do believe the orchestra is ready for this tour and will manage to put up excellent performances despite the tight schedule.


OS: Are there any collaborators that you’d like to acknowledge for the UK tour?

KNS: IMG Artists has been our main collaborator for the UK tour. In fact, they did the first study of the NCPA in 2002. The team there is a mix of old and new faces, but all very nice and extremely well-inclined towards the NCPA. I would also like to acknowledge the role that Tata Trusts is playing in supporting us for this tour. And, I hope their support will henceforth come for all our artistic activities.


OS: As the NCPA Chairman, what are your thoughts on the 50th year of the organisation?

KNS: There are still miles to go and eons to conquer. There is so much more that I would like to see us doing. I would like us to have a complete classical season and a complete opera season. I would like there to be a stronger regional presence when it comes to Indian music, theatre and dance. More of our national talent has to be tapped and included in the programming.

50 years is an achievement, of course, but we need to use this time to think critically and forge ahead to reach greater heights. Ultimately, we need to ensure that quality programming takes precedence over everything else.

This piece was originally published by the National Centre for the Performing Arts, Mumbai, in the February 2019 issue of ON Stage – their monthly arts magazine.