Looking in my old files for my landmark essay Mozart's Vienna -- and then Vision of Vienna's Music -- I came across my reviews of several concerts given in India by visiting musicians from Vienna during the last and first decades of the previous and present centuries.
In technical and artistic terms, my reviews of Western classical music concerts -- often featuring highly accomplished foreign or Indian musicians -- were only descriptive reflections which aimed mainly to enhance public awareness and appreciation of Western classical music here. Of course, when colorfully expressing my admiration or the adoration of the audience, they might have helped to boost the musicians' image in India or back home in their own country.
Sometimes the reviews contained comments which the organizers might have found useful to think about, in contexts like mustering the audience properly, or guiding visiting musicians in advance about local audience response and expectations. The following twin reviews show how seriously things could go wrong, even in opposite directions, with all the best intentions in the world!
Chennai/Madras -- Chennai is the new (and globally still unfamiliar) name of Madras, historic and culturally rich city on the East coast of South India.
Mumbai/Kolkata -- New (native) names of Bombay/Calcutta.
Bengaluru/Goa/Shillong -- Cities in South/West/North-East India : (Bengaluru is the new name of Bangalore, India's leading information-technology hub, well known in Silicon Valley).
March 20, 2009
Sixty years are a fairly long time even in the lives of nations. And to celebrate 60 years of diplomatic relations between Austria and India, the Austrian Embassy and the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) in New Delhi have invited the Vienna Chamber Orchestra to give a few performances in India, where the orchestra consisting of about 40 musicians is currently engaged in an assorted tour programme. While the concerts in New Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata feature the whole orchestra, some smaller groups have been formed to visit several other cities, including Chennai, Bengaluru, Goa and Shillong, and they are called ‘Soloists of the Vienna Chamber Orchestra.’
The ensemble which gave a performance in Chennai last week consisted of seven talented musicians, five of them playing string instruments (violin, viola, double-bass), and two playing wind instruments (oboe, English and French horns). The ICCR, which is based in the Capital, has been actively concerned for a long time with presenting Indian cultural colours abroad and bringing foreign cultural colours to India. Most of the latter events naturally take place in New Delhi. The Council has an office in Chennai, and one hopes it will bring many more visiting musicians from various foreign countries to this city in the future.
That there’s a hard core of music-lovers here who are very seriously interested in Western classical music was evident from the fairly large and highly enthusiastic gathering which had assembled in the spacious Sivakami Pethachi auditorium to hear the performance of the visitors from Vienna. The audience consisted of many elderly persons, many youngsters, and even some children.
Superior but superficial
Given the world-wide good reputation of the Vienna Chamber Orchestra, everyone seemed to be eagerly looking forward to a substantial and memorable musical experience. And all the musicians were quite earnest and performed extremely well. However, the overall musical experience of the listeners turned out to be rather superficial and quite unsatisfying. This was so because the entire program — including an avoidable running commentary by one of the musicians about the nature of the instruments ('The violin and viola are made of superior wood . . .', etc.) — lasted only about an hour.
The concert featured only three very short works by Mozart, which included a divertimento for five strings, and the famous opus ‘Nannerl Septet’ for strings and horns, dedicated by Mozart to his sister Nannerl. Anyone familiar with the last piece of music would have quickly spotted an anomaly because the part meant for the violin-cello was actually played by the double-bass. (Apparently the orchestra’s cellist had gone away with another group to some other city). But this hardly seemed to matter, because the whole team’s performance was extremely smooth and had a silky tone, and there weren’t any jarring notes at all.
But what really did matter in this alien setting was not whether the music was good enough — it certainly had to be! — but whether it was substantial enough. What’s the point of taking all the trouble to bring such accomplished musicians quarter-way across the world merely for dispensing such a small dose of their wonderful music to such an enthusiastic foreign audience, as if it were a strong medicine?
April 9, 2010
Soiree of Viennese music
“That there's a hard core of music lovers here who are seriously interested in Western classical music was evident from the fairly large and highly enthusiastic gathering which had assembled at the Sivakami Pethachi auditorium to listen to the performance of the visitors from Vienna . . . What really did matter in this alien setting was not whether the music was good enough — it certainly had to be! — but whether it was substantial enough. What's the point of taking all the trouble to bring such accomplished musicians quarter-way across the world merely for dispensing such a small dose of their wonderful music to such an enthusiastic foreign audience, as if it were a strong medicine?”
That's the question I had posed last year in the context of a concert organised by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) and the Austrian Embassy, featuring a group of seven musicians drawn from the Vienna Chamber Orchestra. The program had lasted only about an hour, a substantial part of which was consumed by a superficial running commentary by one of the musicians.
Things were different when an ensemble known as the Vienna Chamber Orchestra String Quartet performed in the same concert hall a few days ago. The program, which lasted nearly two hours, presented some substantial and satisfying music. And a relevant and humorous running commentary by the first violinist and team-leader Joji Hattori established an instant rapport between the musicians and the audience. The four musicians -- Joji Hattori (first violin), Lily Francis (second violin), Sergey Malov (viola), and Luis Zorita (cello) – had perfect co-ordination and produced a pure, crystalline sound which was pleasing.
For the piano item, the viola artist was replaced by Dr. Ferdinand Maultaschl, Austria's Ambassador to India, who was described by Joji Hattori as an old friend and school-mate, and ‘a wonderful amateur piano player' (which the diplomat went on to prove with his performance).
Other works presented during this splendid soiree were Haydn's Serenade (where Mr. Hattori set up the melody and all the others just plucked at their strings), and Voices of Spring, the famous Johann Strauss waltz arranged for the string quartet.
All told, the evening's music was a wonderful treat for the highly enthusiastic audience. But this time too, one has a complaint! Unlike last year, when the visitors from Vienna had faced a fairly large audience in the Pethatchi hall but had failed to satisfy the listeners, on this occasion the audience had a really thrilling experience, but it was extremely small, with most of the seats in the spacious auditorium being vacant. This was so because the event hadn't been advertised at all, and only an exclusive group of music lovers had been invited. What a great loss for so many others who would have surely turned up if only they had known!