Monday, February 04, 2019

Please do not clap between movements


No; before the comments start flooding in, that injunction to not clap between movements does not come from me. It was displayed on two large boards at either side of the platform during Bombay Symphony Orchestra concerts; it was there on the orders of the orchestra's co-founder Mehli Mehta to explain Western concert etiquette to Indian audiences*. That is Mehli Mehta in the photo: born in Bombay in 1908, he founded the Bombay Symphony Orchestra in 1935 with the Belgian conductor Jules Craen. But after Mehta moved to America in 1945 the orchestra struggled to survive and finally ceased performing in 1955. Mehli Mehta went on to have a distinguished career in England and America: in Manchester he was concertmaster of the Hallé Orchestra under Sir John Barbirolli, in Philadelphia he was a member of the Curtis Quartet, and he founded the American Youth Symphony in Los Angeles. Like his son Zubin, Mehli Mehta was a member of the Parsi faith.

Fifty-one years after the Bombay Symphony Orchestra ceased playing the Symphony Orchestra of India (SOI) was created in Mumbai - formerly Bombay. The SOI is a full scale, professional orchestra of musicians from both India and abroad, and has worked with distinguished international musicians both at its home in the National Centre for the Performing Arts, Mumbai and on tour. This success has been achieved despite not inconsiderable challenges. The SOI is self-financing and receives no government financial support. It has had difficulty recruiting Indian musicians of the required standard, which has resulted in criticism of the number of 'embedded' foreign musicians. Also its attendances are drawn primarily from the minority Parsi and Catholic communities, and the orchestra has struggled to appeal to the core Indian market acculturated with the Hindustani classical tradition.

But despite these challenges the Symphony Orchestra of India is a remarkable achievement. This month it comes to the UK on tour giving concerts in England, Scotland and Wales conducted by its associate music director Zane Dalal Martyn Brabbins. For the Birmingham Symphony Hall (Feb 19) and London Cadogan Hall (Feb 20) concerts the orchestra is joined by Zakir Hussain to play the tabla virtuoso's Peshkar, concerto for tabla, which was a SOI commission. I would very much like to have been at one of those concerts. Not only because Zakir Hussain is one of my musician heroes. But also because I want to know whether there are two large boards either side of the platform. But, sadly I cannot be there. Because, ironically, I will be on the Indian subcontinent.

* The anecdote providing my headline comes from Bakhtiar K. Dadabhoy's authorised biography Zubin Mehta: A Musical Journey. This invaluable book has been overlooked in the Western media, presumably because it was published by Penguin India. My copy was bought in the priceless Full Circle Bookshop in Khan Market, New Delhi. Ironically Bakhtiar Dadabhoy observes at the end of the anecdote "This is something newcomers to Western classical musc in India still need to be educated about". Important background on Bombay/Mumbai's symphony orchestras is also contained in the article A Symphony Orchestra in Bombay on the Interlude website. New Overgrown Path posts are available via RSS/email by entering your email address in the right-hand sidebar. Any copyrighted material is included for critical analysis, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).

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