Con Brio 2017: Celebrating 70 Years of Indian Independence

Con Brio has brought audiences some unique concert programmes performed by Indians (and some honorary Indians) for seven years. This year will be no different. To celebrate seventy years of Indian independence, all programmes will have a strong Indian connection. Mark Troop, Marialena Feranandes, Patricia Rozario and Paul Stewart will all be present as will several past Con Brio competition winners and young Indian singers, string players and wind players.

About this year’s programming

We often talk about the story of western classical music in India. But there is another fascinating story we should consider: the story of India in western classical music. Our first programme on Friday will attempt to tell that story through pieces where the content was influenced by India. In the opera Sadko, an Indian merchant arrives at a port in the historic city of Novgorod and sings a song of India. Another opera, Lakmé, is entirely set in British India. Delage and Roussel were two French composers who spent a great deal of time in India absorbing the cultures of our land. Their works incorporate Indian ragas in a distinctly French atmosphere. Paporisz also took several of these ragas and wrote a series of short piano pieces based on them. Holst studied Sanskrit in order to translate the Rig Veda and wrote a series of choral hymns using his own translations. The American composer Alan Hovhaness was a Fulbright Research Scholar in India where he studied Karnatic music with native South Indian musicians and incorporated the Indian sound palette in his compositions. The second half of this programme has two composers, Sorabji and Medtner, who had a very strong personal connection to India even though their compositions are not Indian in any specific way.
On Saturday, we have an entire programme comprised of works solely by Indian composers in the western paradigm. Vineet Panikkar from Thiruvananthpuram, who has been a part of every past Con Brio as a competitor, will be featured as a composer on this programme. To celebrate Vanraj Bhatia’s 90th birthday, his Piano Concerto in One Movement, which has not been performed since 1959, will be presented along with his Sonatina for Violin and Piano. As a tribute to Nariman Wadia, who passed away last year, the Paranjoti Academy Chorus under Coomi Wadia will perform his two choral pieces along with Victor Paranjoti’s Kyrie. Naresh Sohal and Param Vir are two very successful composers living and working in the United Kingdom. Freddie Mercury needs no introduction, but these two songs might. When Montserrat Caballé, the legendary Spanish soprano, discovered that Freddie was a huge fan of hers, she asked him to write songs for the two of them where he would do his pop thing and she could do her classical thing.

By 1947 the breaking of major traditions in the Arts was already long underway, and Sunday’s programme showcases that by the middle of the century, simply rejecting tradition was insufficient. In music, composers were all creating individual styles by combining ideas from several past centuries and forging new and unique tonal and rhythmic languages. Without getting too technical, one should listen for this close juxtaposition of familiar and unfamiliar, pleasant and unpleasant, organised and chaotic and delight in these contrasts. Of course, while western classical music was undergoing drastic changes, popular music was catching on and one might wonder whether the complexities of the former resulted in the sweeping preference for the latter, which till today poses a problem for the future of classical music.