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South Asian Symphony Orchestra's debut concert to present ideas of harmony, reconciliation through music

“It’s an entirely India-funded initiative. I think the world needs to know that India has taken a step forward. It’s an attempt by us to tell the world that we in India stand for this kind of reconciliation of dialogue, we don’t stand for separation and isolation,” says Nirupama Rao. The former Foreign Secretary of India, Nirupama and her husband Sudhakar Rao founded the Bengaluru-based South Asian Symphony Foundation (SASF), whose orchestra is all set for its forthcoming debut performance, Chiragh: A Concert Beyond Borders.

The South Asian Symphony Orchestra (SASO) was set up with the goal ‘Let’s sweat in peace, not bleed in war’. The upcoming concert, which is set to take place in Mumbai on 26 April, will demonstrate that the eight South Asian nations share more commonalities than differences. "Through an intelligent use of music, we can really bring alive this concept of harmony," Rao says, explaining the reason why the concert is being organised. It will be dedicated to the memory of an Indian violinist, Sanya Cotta, who was supposed to be part of the performance but fell ill and has passed away, and to those who have lost their lives in Sri Lanka.

Speaking of the orchestral tradition in particular, Rao adds, “I think in an orchestra, walls crumble." The musicians from across the region sit close together, and everyone has to play in unity. “You develop empathy, the capacity to listen," she says. Only through working together in harmony does the beauty of the sound manifest itself.

Tharanga Goonetilleke, a critically acclaimed Sri Lankan soprano, will be the vocal soloist at the concert. She is the first Sri Lankan woman to be admitted into the prestigious Juilliard School. Goonetilleke is hopeful about the message of the concert. “As a Sri Lankan, I am glad that I can bring a little light to the world during this dark time in my country. Every light matters, no matter its size. And together with my colleagues, the concert on Friday, I hope, will shine bright, as a symbol and a plea for peace not just in South Asia, but all over the world.”

 South Asian Symphony Orchestras debut concert to present ideas of harmony, reconciliation through music

Tharanga Goonetilleke and Viswa Subbaraman

Chiragh will be conducted by the co-founder of Opera Vista and artistic director of Skylight Music Theatre, Viswa Subbaraman. “This orchestra represents the best of what South Asia can be: Diverse cultures and nationalities working together to build something of sublime beauty,” explains Subbaraman.

He also strongly believes in the power of music, especially the orchestra, to foster peace. “The beauty of musicians is that we share a common language,” he says, “By putting musicians of South Asia together to form a team and create music, they are developing understandings and friendships with each other, which they will take home to their countries. We start building bridges between people and countries. That lessens those fears of the 'other' and hopefully reduces nationalism to patriotism. I really do believe music can be part of the solution.”

This orchestra marks the first time that musicians from Afghanistan and Kashmir are playing together. “We have actually transcended borders, gone beyond politics,” says Rao. The concert will be “a window between the West and South Asia,” said Subbaraman.

It will open with Maithreem Bhajata, a Sanskrit invocation, which has been arranged for the orchestra. Two South Asian compositions commissioned specially for the concert will also be premiered. The first is Hamsafar: A Journey through South Asia, which is an amalgamation of eight songs from the region. It is arranged by the Afghan National Institute of Music’s Lauren Braithwaite, and commissioned by the Eric Daniel Helms New Music Program, of Classical Movements, for SASO. The track will also have six traditional instruments – Afghani rubab and tanpur, and Kashmiri rubab, santoor, tumbaknari, and matka – playing alongside the orchestra.

The other track is Indian-American composer and instrumentalist Kamala Sankaram’s Bhadke, an orchestral rendition of the 1951 Bollywood track 'Shola Jo Bhadke' from the film Albela. The rest of the programme includes Beethoven’s Egmont Overture, which thematically explores fighting oppression and standing for freedom, Dvořák’s 'Song to the Moon' from Rusalka, Felicien’s 'Sous le feuillage somber' from Lalla Roukh, which is an opera set in India, Mozart’s 'In quali...Mi tradi quell'alma ingrate' from Don Giovanni and Bizet’s L’Arléssiene Suites Nos 1 and 2.

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Chiragh: A Concert Beyond Borders will be held in Mumbai at the Tata Theatre in the National Centre for Performing Arts (NCPA) on 26 April, Friday, from 7 pm. More details here

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Updated Date: Apr 25, 2019 09:40:58 IST