MusAid cultural exchange hosts a series of performances in Kolkata
Last week Kolkata saw a series of performances by Kolkata Symphony Orchestra and several musicians from MusAid, a non-profit organisation in the US, who had come to train adults as well as children from several NGOs and institutions, as part of their cultural exchange programme in India.
The first in the series of performances was held at Lincoln Room, American Centre, which was a chamber concert by seven musicians, namely, violist Kim Mai Nguyen, violinist Sylvia Wehrs, viola substitute Laura Thompson, clarinet player Thomas Verity, flautist Cassie Lear and French horn player Dr Robert Fant, who played compositions by the three Viennese Classicists- Mozart, Beethoven and Haydn and were conducted by Avery Waite.
It was followed by a fundraiser at The ITC Sonar, Kolkata, with a much more elaborate lineup and varied compositions, by Mozart, Carl Maria von Weber, Christoph Willibald Gluck, Vittorio Monti, Alexander Glazunov, Benjamin Godard, Pablo de Sarasate, Isaac Albeniz and Rodgers & Hammerste.
The Kolkata Symphony Orchestra (KSO) was headed by violinist and conductor Sanjib Mondal, and accompanied by renowned soprano Lee-Alison Sibley, who sang songs from The Sound of Music, like The Water is Wide, My Favourite Things, and The Hills are Alive, along with some Bengali Rabindra Sangeet like Alo amar alo ogo and Phoole phoole dhole dhole in her perfect high-pitched voice.
The same group gave a public performance at the GD Birla Sabhagar, the next day. Sanjib Mondal, the conductor of KSO says, “It’s very heartening to know that artistes from abroad are coming to perform with us. It has been our long-awaited dream to establish a symphony orchestra in Kolkata. We are trying to improve the wind and brass section and plan to perform in the second week of December, next; around Christmas.”
Amongst the musicians, the guest conductor and executive director of MusAid, Avery Waite has been a Fulbright Scholar and has worked on a comparative study of Indian and western classical music, during which he stayed in India for nine months. Avery is a Cellist and has also recorded few singles, such as the cover of Pirates of the Caribbean theme song with Archy Jay and an EP called Nearest Distance.
There are plenty of other countries like Turkmenistan, El Salvador and Jamaica and Afghanistan, where Avery has travelled with the aim of bringing about social change with the help of cultural exchange programmes. While in Afghanistan, he did a collaboration between Afghan folk music ensemble Drifting East and western classical music, which resulted in the album Songs and Melodies of Afghanistan.
“It has always been difficult to survive as an artiste. Other careers are a lot more predictable and stable but the career of an artiste is very rewarding, as you make great relationships with a lot of people, who share a common love for the same art,” he shares with a smile.
Thomas Verity played a Beethoven duet with Avery Waite, and in the group performance on Haydn’s composition, at the American Centre's chamber concert. He shares, “I picked up the Clarinet at the age of 11 and music has been a big part of my life, as I gained a lot by music. I love sharing that with young people, especially the students, who are trying so hard to learn through music. It was a great project to be a part of.”
Thomas has been a part of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and currently, he is an Associate Clarinet for Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London. This was his first trip to India and soon he will be in Delhi, ready to explore a completely new Indian city on his own. He also plays with a folk group called Klezmerish, which specialises in music from central Europe.
“I have never been to Kolkata before”- says flautist Cassie Lear, with a smile. “I have been learning flute since the age of five and hasn’t stopped yet,” she adds. Cassie had been playing in an orchestra since school, and finds a strong sense of community, in being able to play with a group of people, and that is what brings her to this cultural exchange programme.
“I am recording a new album next month, with pianist and composer Steven Luksan. One of the songs from the album is Prayer; a very unconventional piece which jumps ups and downs and suddenly becomes quite in the middle. The number was inspired by a medical condition his friend (Steven’s) suffered, and emotes his emotional responses to it,” says Cassie.
There are other numbers in her album, like Sonata for Flute, Impromptu and Ceremony. “Ceremony is a bizarre composition with the flute, saxophone and French horn, which begins with all three instruments, coming from different directions, as it were, forming a synchronised single sound and then diverging in different sections again. It has six movements,” she informs. “Bach’s full sonatas are my favourite, as they have a lot of depth and emotions,” she adds.
This is the fourth trip to India for Robert Fant, who plays the French Horn. Robert has played for the Symphony Orchestra of India in Mumbai before and has frequently visited the country between 2012 and 2014, for various performances. It was perchance, that Fant took to the French horn, as the primary reason was to get into a medical school. But he decided to continue with the music instead.
Fant has also performed with tabla maestro Zakir Hussain and has been a part of cultural exchange programmes in other countries too, like Russia and China. “Richard Strauss’ Horn concerto number 2, is my favourite piece,” he says. He recently performed the premiere piece Mendelson Variations for the International Horn Society, in Belgium.