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A Season of The Symphony Orchestra of India

SOI conductor Zane Dalal told us about the orchestra as well as their grand finale performance of the season, which includes a performance by Zakir Hussain, Edgar Meyer and Bela Fleck.

15 Feb, 2013

Shalaka Pai

Feature Writer

The Symphony Orchestra of India has been active for six years now, and they’re growing from strength to strength with each season. Every year, 78 musicians from all over the world come together to form a unique collective, focusing on the beauty of classical music. The orchestra plays two seasons a year, and the 14th celebrity season of the SOI kicked off on February 13. The orchestra will play shows at NCPA, Mumbai through February, before going to play shows at the Royal Opera House, Muscat. On the billing for this season are orchestral and chamber music concerts, with a finale on February 22 featuring acclaimed banjo player Bela Fleck, double-bass legend Edgar Meyer and tabla virtuoso Zakir Hussain. The trio will premiere their live concerto ‘Melody Of Rhythm’ for the first time in the country. This season, SOI conductor-in-residence Zane Dalal is in charge of all the concerts and will conduct as well as curate each show.

“Each individual in the orchestra has a uniqueness as a human being, and a lot of musical experience, and they bring that with them,” Dalal told us. “It’s amazing, we have 78 unique individuals who for two hours, try to go after the same thing. Musicians from everywhere come to India for a three week season, they absolutely love the standard we’ve created. It’s like a United Nations.” The main aim of any orchestra, according to Dalal, is to represent the composer of the piece properly. “We’re building a sound that’s not based on nationality, but purely from what’s required from the music,” he said. “In a short space, these people are able to gel to what’s required. The sound we go after is exactly what is required by the composer.”

Watch a short clip of the orchestra performing Beethoven’s 9th symphony during their 7th concert season in 2009

In his sixth year as resident conductor, Dalal now has the opportunity to choose and conduct all the performances this season. “I have had the opportunity to choose the repertoire, the pieces, what I know and love and know what will be good with the orchestra,” he said. “I get a chance to now project my idea to the orchestra in a way that they take it all to fruition.”

The opening concert on February 13 was an all-Beethoven concert. The ‘Coriolan Overture’ was paired with Beethoven’s  Symphony No. 4, like it was originally meant to be, and the night ended with Symphony No. 7. The orchestra consistently adheres to the high standard that they have maintained ever since their inception. Dalal explained that the institution does not wish to popularise the music by making it gimmicky. While there are many ways they can connect to their audience, they refuse to substitute standards. “We’ve created a first class symphony orchestra that just happens to be in Mumbai,” he said. Dalal maintains an analogy for how he and the orchestra view their task:

If the music is that sacred, it is like a prayer. All of us on the platform are like priests and we are not going to change our prayer. It is the invocation of something spiritual.

While other orchestras globally have a long history, with as many as 120 years of experience, the Symphony Orchestra of India has risen near the top of their field in a mere six years. “This is a very fine group,” Dalal told us proudly. “It is a young group. While some of the musicians are quite young, they are very good players. There’s a very malleable, flexible sound, the routine fatigue has not set in.” This season will be one of the best the orchestra has seen, Dalal promises, as the group has been reinventing its sound and acoustics, taking care of all details meticulously. “Institutions like the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra have over 60 years of experience. We are just in our sixth year, so it’s a baby,” he laughed, “But a very healthy baby.”

Watch the SOI perform Stravinsky’s ‘Firebird Suite’ below:

The orchestra will play dates at the NCPA all through the month. Their concert on February 17 features pieces by Reznicek, Brahms and Tchaikovsky, with acclaimed British pianist Benjamin Frith returning to perform Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 1. February 19 will see them perform with Kazakh violinist Marat Bisengaliev, who also serves as the SOI’s music director.

The grand finale of the February 2013 season takes place on February 22. The night begins with an overture by Glinka, and moves on to a violin concerto by Tchaikovsky, with Marat Bisengaliev returning as a soloist. The last piece of the night is the most awaited: ‘Melody Of Rhythm’, a joint concerto by Edgar Meyer, Bela Fleck and Zakir Hussain. Dalal told us more about the piece and how it would play out. ”Melody and rhythm are two aspects of the same phenomenon,” he emphasized. “If you slow down the wavelengths of any piece of music, the melody stops and rhythm occurs. ‘Melody Of Rhythm’ features three stars on their respective instruments, they are so accomplished, but when they play live, they push the envelope. They’re constantly exploring their own boundaries and limitations, and that’s very exciting. The piece is not jazz, it’s not Indian classical…but yet, it is. Zakir gets melody out of the tabla. Fleck gets rhythm out of his banjo.”

Fleck and Meyer have been collaborating for several years now. Meyer is the architect of this concerto, and in 2004, when the duo was commissioned to compose ‘Melody Of Rhythm’, Fleck was very interested with the Indian classical sound. Both of them unanimously decided that Zakir was the man for the task. Dalal and the SOI are extremely excited to have the trio perform with them. “I have eight double bassists in the orchestra, they’re extremely excited to see Meyer perform with them.” Dalal exclaimed.

The orchestra will then travel to Muscat to perform shows on two consecutive nights at the Royal Opera House, Muscat. Several acclaimed orchestras stop at Muscat, so the Middle Eastern city sees several high-profile performances. “The city is exposed to a fine selection of music,” Dalal explained. “We have to put our game face on.” The city also has a very large Indian expatriate population who are bound to flock to the show to watch Zakir Hussain perform.

Stream ‘The Melody Of Rhythm, Movement 1′ off the album, below.

Dalal left us with some advice on immersing oneself into orchestral music.

“I encourage that people have the opportunity to listen for what the composer intended. There is some kind of pulse that hits you in the solar plexus when you listen to such a performance. It’s a process you can’t pay money for, it just happens. The presentation of this music is like a fully cut diamond that you show and wear. Don’t come to a show thinking it’s an elitist activity, and jump in, feet first.”

The Symphony Orchestra of India plays shows at the NCPA, Mumbai on February 17, 19 and 22. Tickets are priced at Rs 2,000, 1,600, 1,200 and 800, and can be purchased here. More details on the SOI can be found on their official website. For a schedule of what’s on at the NCPA over the coming months, go here

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