By M.V.Ramakrishnan

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Germans Could Have Been More Generous!

The spring and early summer of Mozart's bicentenary year (1991) saw me still appealing to the local organizers of Western classical music in New Delhi to persuade visiting foreign musicians from the West to be far more generous with their offerings than they were normally inclined to be :-

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T.V. Sankaranarayanan  (alias TVS)   --  One of the seniormost  vocalists in Carnatic music (classical music of South India). If you aren't a South Indian, you can't pronounce his name properly.  Try splitting it up into Sankara Narayanan : if you still can't make it, just stick to TVS, as even most South Indians do!

M.S. Subbulakshmi   (alias MS)   --  During several decades of the 20th century, she was the undisputed prima donna of Carnatic music.
Max ller Bhavan   --  German language and cultural center (see annotation under Brick  &  Bouquet, June 10. 2016). 

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New Delhi
8 March 1991

All about things beautiful

T.V. Sankaranarayanan is one of the very few leading Carnatic musicians who still keep coming to New Delhi now and then to give substantial performances here without fussing about fees or facilities.  But unfortunately for me, whenever he turns up I seem to have some problem or other.  There was an occasion a few years ago when his performance clashed with M.S. Subbulakshmi's:  I attended the first hour of her concert and then rushed to hear the second half of his recital.

And last week, although he was performing on two successive evenings in the city (both of which I would have liked to attend), I found myself facing a dilemma.  I just could not afford t miss two concerts given on those very evenings by certain visiting German musicians.  It was a difficult choice, and the Germans won because I thought TVS was always going to be with us and there would be many occasions in the future to recoup the loss.

This situation underlined the fairly wide range of experience which is available to a music-lover in Delhi if his or her interest is not confined to Indian music.

We owe much of our experience of Western music here to the consistent initiative taken by the Delhi Music Society, the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, the Max Müller Bhavan, and the Bulgarian and Italian Cultural Centers.  Theirs have been the most sustained efforts during the past several years.  Of late the Austrian Embassy has been coming in with an occasional contribution, as the British Council, United States Information Service and the Delhi Symphony Orchestra have always been doing.

Lovely songs

In the first concert I mentioned, held in the small IIC auditorium which was just about full, mezzo-soprano Ute Jahr rendered three short sets of German songs (Lieder) composed by Schubert, Brahms and Bretan.  She was accompanied by Barbara Cackler on the piano.  

Though Ms. Jahr now lives in the U.S., she had studied music in Germany and Austria, and her interpretation of the Lieder sounded authentic and convincing.  She also rendered a few English songs by Gershwin and others.  Ms. Cackler, who hails from America, played some selected pieces for the piano by Schubert and Gershwin.

As was only to be expected, the songs were all about gentle breezes and fragrant flowers, cold nights and icy winds, swishing fountains and the shining moon, love fulfilled in happy dreams, unrequited love and weary souls, silent forests and dreaming mountains, singing birds and village belles, lonely hearts and eternal hopes . . .  The program notes containing a quaint translation of the texts revealed the meaning of every song to the audience.  But if the German texts had also been given side by side, it would have benefited some of us who could have savoured the words better with such a visual aid.

The program was not insubstantial, judged by the thrifty standards usually adopted by visiting Western musicians. But one could not help wishing that the mezzo-soprano had rendered a few songs of Schumann and Wolf too -- for their works of this genre are no less famous than those of Schubert or Brahms, and even a short glimpse of them would have given us a wider view of the whole concept of Lieder.     

Clamor for more

The second concert, totally dedicated to the works of Mozart (whose bicentenary is being celebrated this year), was given by the Tubingen Chamber Orchestra from Germany.  It is a fairly large ensemble consisting of about 20 musicians, and featuring several violins, violas, cellos, oboes, horns, a flute and a contrabass. The large concert hall was nearly filled with eager and attentive music-lovers, which lifted the spirit of the orchestra. 

The works featured were a symphony (Kv.14), a flute concerto (Kv.313), and a violin-and-viola concerto (Kv.364).  The performance, conducted by the orchestra's founder Helmut Calgeer, was distinguished by its cool precision and elegant sound.  The soloists Susanne Calgeer (violin), Ulrich Knorzer (viola), and Hans Dunschede  (flute) acquitted themselves well, and attracted a warm response from the audience.

Although the concert did not lack in substance, it failed to satisfy the listeners for the simple reason that everybody seemed to be clamoring for more but the visitors were not prepared to extend the recital beyond giving a couple of short encores.

I have said this before, and I shall say it again now :  those of us in Delhi who choose to attend such events look not only for entertainment but also for considerable enlightenment.  This is something touring foreign musicians must be clearly told by the local organizers.  And we like much longer sessions of music, brothers and sisters from the Western world! 

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