It’s All about the Score: Football-mad Musicians

Classical music has the stereotype of being dainty and genteel, and by extension one might not expect composers and musicians to show much interest in sweaty pursuits like The Beautiful Game.

But ever since the modern version of the game evolved, some of classical music’s finest have been unable to take their eyes off the ball.

Heading the line-up, as it were, is the English composer Edward Elgar (1857-1934). He was a lifelong supporter of the Wolverhampton Wanderers. He would regularly cycle for miles through the countryside from Malvern to Wolverhampton to watch their home games in the company of his lady friend Dorabella ‘Dora’ Penny, seventeen years his junior and immortalized in the tenth of his famous Enigma Variations. Elgar had an eye for the ladies, so it is possible that she was his motivation as much as the game. Be that as it may, it was discovered in the late 1990s that Elgar scored the music for the first-ever football terrace chant “He Banged the Leather for Goal” after the Wolves striker Billy Malpass scored against Stoke in 1898. Apparently he got the title of the chant off a match report! It has fallen out of use, although his ‘Nimrod’ from the Enigma Variations still gets belted out by football fans everywhere.

Jostling for top position with Elgar is Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975), possibly the only famous composer to be a qualified football referee. His love of the game was legendary. He described it as ‘the ballet of the masses’. He went to the extent of actually writing a ballet ‘The Golden Age’, about a football team that falls prey to match-fixing and imprisonment in a decadent Western city, with a musical football match written into the second act. In the words of Soviet writer Maxim Gorki, Shostakovich was “a rabid fan… He comported himself like a little boy, leapt up, screamed and gesticulated at matches”.

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(Shostakovich, bespectacled in the foreground in both pictures)

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He supported the team Zenit Leningrad, and would cut short his composing retreats in the countryside just to watch the home matches. His friend Isaak Glikman relates how he would even invite the whole team to his house, ply them with alcohol, and play the piano for them.

It is even believed that football was the last thing on his mind before he died. He was working on his Viola Sonata and before he retired, he asked to be wakened to watch a match on television, but died in his sleep.

The famous Gloria by Francis Poulenc ((1899-1963) was partly inspired by his recollection of seeing “some solemn-looking Benedictine monks that I saw playing football one day”.

American composer Charles Ives (1874-1954) captained a football team in college, while Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) was an all-round sportsman with a love of sport that included football, and it was said that “he kicked a pretty corner”.

Among contemporary composers, Mark-Anthony Turnage (b. 1960) is an avid Arsenal supporter. In 1999, he wrote a football-themed opera “The Silver Tassle” about a footballer injured during the First World War. He also concealed a distorted version of the football chant ‘Olé Olé Olé’ in his 1991 orchestral composition ‘Momentum’.

Benedict Mason (b. 1954) has also written a football opera “Playing Away” about the brilliant footballer Terry Bond.

Michael Nyman (b. 1944) and James MacMillan (b. 1959, and who recently visited Mumbai with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra) support the Queen’s Park Rangers and Celtic respectively. Nyman wrote a football-inspired minimalist work called “Beckham Crosses, Nyman Scores” during the 2002 World Cup; and “The Final Score” (accompanying a film of the same name and dedicated to QPR) and a whole album of football-inspired music called “After Extra Time” which includes the funeral dirge ‘Memorial’ as a tribute to Juventus fans killed at the Heysel stadium tragedy in 1985.

David Golightly is a great supporter of Middlesbrough FC; his Symphony No. 1 is the first-ever symphony dedicated not only to a football club and its chairman (Steve Gibson), but is also an “orchestral portrait of the game”, encompassing the fluctuating fortunes of his beloved team.

Finnish composer and football fanatic Peter Laang has written a pop opera “Learning to Shout” highlighting the problems of racism and violence in football. The idea came to him while watching the 1998 World Cup. In the plot, goddesses sell beer, while football-mad Greeks and Trojans battle it out in the stands.

Compatriot Osmo Tapio Everton Räihälä (b. 1965) is an Everton supporter, and his best-known work is the 2005 orchestral portrait Barlinnie Nine, a tribute to Everton footballer Duncan Ferguson, who once did time at HM Prison Barlinnie. Incredibly, on the night of its premiere, Ferguson scored the only goal of the game at the FA Cup final in Everton’s win over Manchester United!

Last weekend I covered The Three Tenors. Plácido Domingo’s heart beats for Real Madrid. He was invited in 2002 to mark the club’s centenary by singing and recording its new anthem ‘Himno del Centenario’, and is now its ‘honorary member’. Of his tenor companions, Luciano Pavarotti supported Juventus, while José Carreras is loyal to FC Barcelona.

Violin superstar Nigel Kennedy is famed for his abiding love of Aston Villa, with internet pictures of him kitted out and playing a fiddle painted in Villa colours.

And some classical music melodies have become part of football lore in their own right. Last week we saw how Nessun Dorma from Puccini’s Turandot became a football anthem.

Sunderland use Sergei Prokofiev’s ‘Montagues and Capulets’ (or ‘Dance of the Knights’ by its proper title) from his ballet Romeo and Juliet as they come onto the pitch at home games. It is also the theme music from The Apprentice. The BBCC used Gabriel Fauré’s Pavane in its coverage of the 1998 World Cup, bringing it out of relative obscurity into the popular imagination.

Is it surprising that football shares locker rooms with dance, ballet and opera? It’s all there: the footwork, the choreography, the spectacle, high-octane drama. And the score, of course!

(An edited version of this article was published on 13 July 2014 in my column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Panorama section of the Navhind Times Goa India)

Twenty-four Years and six World Cup Finals later: When Bel Canto met The Beautiful Game

It was philanthropy that brought together three of the world’s greatest operatic tenors of the time for a unique concert and also brought the world of classical music and sport together. It created a new genre of entertainment, bringing “opera to the masses” in an unprecedented manner and scale.

José Carreras was in the midst of a film version of Puccini’s La Bohème in Paris in 1987 when he was found to have acute lymphoblastic leukemia and given a 10% chance of survival. However, he fought the battle against it, and started a charity, the José Carreras International Leukemia Foundation. The concert was planned to raise money for it, and also for Carreras’ friends and tenor rivals Plácido Domingo and Luciano Pavarotti to welcome their “little brother” back to the operatic stage after his ordeal.

It attracted an audience of six thousand at the ancient Baths of Caracalla, Rome on 7 July 1990, the eve of the 1990 FIFA World Cup Final and was broadcast by television to 800 million people. Zubin Mehta conducted the combined orchestral forces of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino and Teatro dell’Opera di Roma. The live recording of the performance, (Three Tenors in Concert) released on the Decca Classics label, won the Grammy Award for Best Classical Vocal Performance the following year. It holds the Guinness World Record for the best-selling classical album.

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The Three Tenors rapidly became a World Cup fixture, performing at the 1994 finals in Los Angeles (with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, also conducted by Zubin Mehta, to 56,000 people at the Dodger stadium and 1.3 billion watching on television); at the Champ de Mar under the Eiffel Tower in 1998 (James Levine conducting the Orchestre de Paris); and in Yokohoma in 2002. They also toured the world, performing in stadiums and large arenas. Some concerts raised money for other philanthropic causes, such as the rebuilding of the Teatro La Fenice in Venice, and the Reina Sofia Foundation.

The repertoire at the concerts featured operatic arias, as well as Broadway classics, Neapolitan songs and pop hits. The aria ‘Nessun Dorma’(‘None shall sleep’) from Puccini’s opera Turandot quickly achieved pop status after Pavarotti’s 1972 recording of it was used as the theme song of BBC TV’s coverage of the 1990 World Cup. The title certainly seemed apt for the multitudes around the world staying up to watch the matches live. Although he rarely ever sang the role of Calaf (the character who sings the aria in the opera) on stage, it became Pavarotti’s signature aria and went on to become a football anthem.

The Three Tenors phenomenon has had its share of fans and critics, and the classical music world is polarized about it. Opera purists felt that opera was not “music for the masses” and that the presentation of operatic arias in stadiums and large arenas with heavy amplification often out of the larger context of the plot distorts the appreciation and understanding of opera as a complete art form (Gesamtkunstwerk). Domingo in an interview in 1998 gave a fitting reply: “I understand the complaints of the purists. But I don’t want the purists to go to The Three Tenors”.

The concerts certainly awakened interest in opera and broadened its appeal. Brian Castle-Onion in his book ‘Losing the Plot in Opera” points out the paradox that “while price structures within opera houses increase opera’s elitism and make it less accessible to the masses, phenomena like The Three Tenors and Opera in the Park actually take it to a wider audience”.

The idea of outdoor performances is of course at least as old as ancient Greece. Much later, in 1717, King George I was serenaded while being rowed from Whitehall to Chelsea and back on the Thames by fifty musicians in barges playing George Frideric Handel’s Royal Water Music. And in 1749 the king and a crowd of twelve thousand listened to Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks.

But the detractors do have a point, especially when it comes to operatic singing in the outdoors. One could argue that a major aspect of operatic singing is the ability to use one’s natural vocal abilities, devoid of amplification, to reach out to one’s audience. When one attempts it in the outdoors to an audience of tens of thousands, one inevitably has to amplify the voice, and thus necessarily loses subtle nuances, vocal colours and overtones of the notes being sung, and the immediacy and intimacy of the music. There is also the danger of creating a generation of young singers who may not think it necessary to learn to project their voice, or to give it greater ‘body’, because amplification can artificially achieve this for them anyway. One sees this already in Goa, with so many young men and women with really beautiful voices, but who have an overdependency on the mike and are unable to sing effectively when deprived of this crutch.

On the other hand, the wellbeing and very survival of classical music may depend upon making it more accessible to the public, and concerts like the Three Tenors are one way to do that. The Three Tenors phenomenon proved that a good tune sung and played well will always be appreciated, even if it is classical music. Leading opera houses like Covent Garden now annually broadcast their productions live onto large screens in Trafalgar Square and other wide open public places in the summer. Tens of thousands of people who would otherwise never have had a taste of opera are able to hear the opera classics sung by the world’s greatest singers, for free, with a picnic basket for company. Purists may carp but it proves that opera in particular, and classical music in general, are for everyone.

And the floodgates opened that July evening in 1990 in Rome when Bel Canto scored a winner at The Beautiful Game.

(An edited version of this article was published on 6 July 2014 in my column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Panorama section of the Navhind Times Goa India)

In Print: NCPA’s ON Stage magazine, July 2014 issue

The month of May began for us with a concert by the Chamber Singers Pune led by Veronica Krishnayya and hosted by Pro Musica and The Performing Arts Trust Pune at the Kala Academy indoor auditorium Goa. The choir very generously dedicated the concert to Child’s Play India Foundation, and Ms. Krishnayya even suggested that we do a collection at the end of the evening. The concert was entitled ‘The Singing Heart’ and featured folk song-poems from across the world, including Argentina, Hungary, India, Israel, Russia and the United States. The programme was chosen with great thought and sensitivity, to reflect the mood of the writings of award-winning poet Randhir Khare, who narrated the poems himself between the choral works. The imaginative programming was much appreciated by the audience. The highlight was the entire second half of the programme, the Misa Criolla by iconic Argentine pianist and composer Ariel Ramirez, one of the leading figures of Argentine nativism. Misa Criolla celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, and was one of the first Masses to be composed in a ‘modern’ language after the Second Vatican Council, which permitted the celebration of the Roman Catholic Mass in the vernacular as opposed to the Latin.

We were delighted to be informed that Child’s Play India Foundation was among the few institutions in the country chosen to partner in the Commonwealth Music Partnership, which has Queen Elizabeth II as Diamond Jubilee Patron, and Maestro Zubin Mehta as Music Patron. One of our young violin teachers Stefi Cruz was selected to participate in a fully-funded opportunity created as part of the build-up to the Commonwealth Games Glasgow 2014. Stefi will play in the Commonwealth Youth Orchestra in three concert performances in the Royal Concert Hall Glasgow, and St. James’s Palace and the Commonwealth Secretariat, Marlborough House, London later in June. A flurry of document-chasing followed in its wake to enable Stefi to get her visa in time. Her selection is an exciting opportunity for her, and a great honour for us, and we wish her every success.

Stefi and I also enrolled in the Trinity Laban Summer Music Academy’s specialist course for music teachers, led by Tim Palmer and Karl Lutchmayer at the Mehli Mehta Music Foundation premises in Mumbai. There were participants from Mumbai, Pune, Goa, Surat and Delhi. And the teachers spanned the entire range, from private tutors at their own homes to teachers at schools, music institutions and projects somewhat similar to our own.

Several things stood out during the week of the course. So many of our children at Child’s Play have minimal or no parental involvement, something so crucial to the Suzuki pedagogical philosophy for example. Their parents are daily wage workers and labourers and not able to supervise their practice sessions or even take pride in their progress, although this is slowly beginning to change, with a few parents actually showing up for their children’s concerts.

Commitment to daily practice is a universal struggle for children and teachers across the socio-economic spectrum. But the distractions are so different. For richer children, it can be the internet, video games, eating out and movies and other pursuits. But for our kids it is basic issues like personal space, privacy, lighting that can come in the way.

It was interesting to observe how longer school hours, ever larger doses of homework, extra classes and tuition are eating into practice time and musical advancement across the board. It is a major problem. At El Sistema nucleos in Venezuela, children are able to put in up to four hours after school daily with their instrument, in ensemble playing and individual or group lessons. This is a huge factor in the amazing progress shown by the children there. It is difficult to imagine how one can get our school-children from any social stratum to spend even a quarter of this time every day, given the way our mainstream education system is constructed. Tim Palmer spoke of Malcolm Gladwell’s best-selling book “Outliers: the Story of Success” and the 10,000-Hour Rule based on the famous study by Anders Ericsson which states that it takes roughly ten thousand hours of practice to achieve mastery in any field, including music. Whether you subscribe to the rule or not, there is no denying that one will only get better at an instrument if one works regularly, preferably daily, at it. This is increasingly difficult to achieve in India, and has huge implications for the future of classical music in India.

The Ensemble as a Microcosm of Society

Camerata Child's Play India

Young Goan violinist Stefi Cruz has just done Child’s Play India Foundation and indeed her country proud by representing us, playing violin in the Commonwealth Youth Orchestra last week. The Commonwealth Youth Orchestra and Choir are a creation of the Commonwealth Music Partnership, which has Queen Elizabeth II as Diamond Jubilee Patron, and Maestro Zubin Mehta as Music Patron. The orchestra and choir gave three concert performances in the Royal Concert Hall Glasgow, and St. James’s Palace and the Commonwealth Secretariat, Marlborough House, London as part of the build-up to the Commonwealth Games Glasgow 2014. 

It is significant that a meeting of nations and people, whether for sport or for anything else, should also be marked by performances by an instrumental and choral ensemble. The orchestra and choir can be viewed as a microcosm of society, and indeed in the wider sense, of the ‘society’ or ‘community’ of nations.

This belief has been the motivation of José Antonio Abreu, founder in 1975 of El Sistema Venezuela, the revolutionary music education programme that is now sweeping across the world. From its beginning, he has pursued the utopian dream in which an orchestra represents the ideal society, and the sooner a child is nurtured in that environment, the better for all. The Venezuelan system provides a place in an orchestra for children, no matter how poor or troubled their backgrounds, throughout the country.

In his 2007 TED Prize lecture, Abreu stated, “In its essence, the orchestra and the choir are much more than artistic structures. They are examples and schools of social life, because to sing and to play together means to intimately coexist toward perfection and excellence, following a strict discipline of organization and coordination in order to seek the harmonic interdependence of voices and instruments. That’s how they build a spirit of solidarity and fraternity among them, develop their self-esteem and foster the ethical and aesthetical values related to the music in all its senses. This is why music is immensely important in the awakening of sensibility, in the forging of values and in the training of youngsters to teach other kids.”

World-renowned Israeli conductor and pianist Daniel Barenboim is co-founder along with the late Palestinian literary scholar Eduard Said of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, which brings together young musicians from Israel and the Arab countries to enable intercultural dialogue through the experience of making music. 

In his view, the orchestra is “a group of individuals, each with their own freedom and responsibility to express themselves, but each also having to listen to and engage with others in the group. In addition, the conductor, as a leader to this group, will not be successful unless she or he understands the orchestra, and unless the individuals in the orchestra understand her or him. This relationship is based on shared trust and equality among all members of the group, and is broken when defined by power and individuality alone. When the orchestra plays a composition, no individual is a leading voice at all times, and the music changes and develops, passing through periods of stillness and madness, but what defines a great orchestra is harmony and understanding among its members, and this creates beauty for its listeners. These lessons have the power to reach well beyond the language and study of music, to the spheres of politics, economics, media, education, and culture.”

This is so true. In an orchestra, it doesn’t matter if you are concertmaster doing most of the ‘heavy lifting’, or the timpanist with the occasional crash-bang-wallop or a few turns in the triangle. For a musical work to achieve fruition, every individual contribution is just as necessary as that of the next. The sopranos in a choir are not more or less important than the tenors or basses. Isn’t this how a society should be as well, where the contribution of each citizen is deemed just as valuable, and their rights are equally sacrosanct, regardless of clout or money power? And in the community of nations, the poorest and weakest nation deserves as much respect, dignity and voice as the rich and powerful?

The other parallel is the important virtue of listening. It is not just the audience, or the ‘listener’, who listens. The performance of music is a constant dialogue between the musicians, and their ability to listen attentively and intelligently and respond appropriately is what distinguishes a great performance from a pedestrian one, and a cohesive ensemble from a hastily cobbled group.

Listening in this way also implies empathy. If the cellos and double basses have their noses buried in the score and inadvertently begin to crank up the tempo, oblivious to the difficult passage the poor violin section have to therefore hurry through as a result, it can be disastrous. Similarly, a good conductor will allow a woodwind soloist to literally ‘breathe’ at strategic points in a long soulful legato passage or it will fall to pieces.

Lessons learned in the rehearsal room and the concert hall can easily be extrapolated to life outside these locations. This is the genesis of social change. In the words of my friend and Abreu Fellow Jonathan Andrew Govias: “Social change starts with the individual. All of us want to be needed and respected and valued. We can create that environment within the classroom, the home, or the orchestra – but in the orchestra, most easily, because the art is the higher calling, it inspires while it gratifies, and the rules of the game are simpler and fairer”.

This is certainly a belief held by Gustavo Dudamel, wunderkind conductor and product of El Sistema, and currently at the helm of the Los Angeles Philharmonic: “It [El Sistema’s ensemble experience] has changed not just the lives of the individuals involved – but also of their families, the communities around the children.”

“And it changed because they have access to beauty; to sensitivity; to creativity; and to discipline. We are talking here about the elements of a good citizen.”

(An edited version of this article was published on 29 June 2014 in my column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Panorama section of the Navhind Times Goa India)

Classical Music in the Movies: Happy Feet Two and Tosca

Thanks to my 5-year old, I often end up watching snatches of children’s films on television. I happened to be watching a segment of Happy Feet Two with him, when I was startled to hear the familiar sound of a Puccini aria, but with the lyrics changed. Everything else seemed intact, though. Its appearance, right in the middle of the film, seemed incongruous at first.

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But the film is meant to be a musical, and if the soundtrack can feature the rock anthem “We are the Champions” by Queen, then why not a ‘modified’ aria from Tosca by Giacomo Puccini? Director George Miller in an interview called it “a strange confection of different genres, from opera to ballads, rap and R&B classics.”

The context? Erik the penguin (he of the Happy Feet) and his dad Mumble are on their arduous journey back to Emperor-Land when they encounter a precarious ice bridge guarded by an elephant seal (“Brian the Beachmaster”) and his two cubs, who refuse to let the penguins pass. It is at this juncture that the sombre clarinet solo is heard, and Erik first commiserates with his father (“After all you’ve done, you really deserve better”) and then proceeds to reprimand their tormentor and the Fates in general: “Where is the honour when a solemn promise is just a pretty lie, and the mighty mock the courage of the humble?” He ends with the advice his father, who although “just an ordinary penguin” had given him: “You don’t need to be colossal to be a great heart. You don’t need to fly to be awesome!” The track is titled “Erik’s opera”.

Al Jonson, who also lifted the melody of this aria for his song ‘Avalon’ in 1920, was not so lucky. His team was successfully sued by G. Ricordi, the publisher of Puccini’s operas, having to pay up $25,000 in damages and all future royalties of the song.

The Puccini aria is titled “E lucevan le stele” (“And the stars were shining”). It is a romanza, and features in Act Three of his melodramatic opera Tosca, composed in 1900 to an Italian libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa. It is sung by Mario Cavaradossi (tenor), a painter who is in love with the singer and ‘leading lady’ Floria Tosca, while he awaits execution on the ramparts of the famous Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome.

The opera is set in Rome in June 1800. The play La Tosca by Victorien Sardou, from which the libretto is taken, dates it even more precisely, to the “afternoon, evening and early morning of 17 and 18 June 1800”. These were particularly turbulent times for the “Eternal City”, marking the beginning of fourteen years of domination by the legions of Napoleon Bonaparte. Cavaradossi is a republican sympathizer and helps political prisoner Angelotti escape, precipitating his own arrest, interrogation, torture and trial by the sadistic, malevolent Chief of Police, Baron Scarpia.

Cavaradossi is informed that he has but an hour to live. He asks to write a letter to Tosca, and is overcome by memories, when he sings this poignant aria “And the stars were shining”. Desolate in his anguish, he ends “And I die in despair, And I never before loved life so much”.

Mario_cavaradossi,_Opera_Tosca,_Giacomo_Puccini._Inspired_by_the_tenor_Giancarlo_Monsalve.

Puccini insisted on the inclusion of the line “I die in despair” (‘muoio disperato’)and felt that the aria’s many admirers, and indeed posterity itself had triple cause to be indebted to him: for composing the music, for the lyrics, and “for declining expert advice to throw the result in the waste-paper basket”.

The theme of the aria is played tutta forze (as loudly as possible) as Tosca leaps to her death.

Some readers might recall the Doordarshan broadcast in 1992 of the historic filming in Rome of the opera, which was shot and aired live in the locations and at the times mentioned: Act I was aired at noon from the church of Sant’Andrea delle Valle; Act II at 8 pm that evening from the Palazzo Farnese; and Act II from the Castel Sant’Angelo the following dawn. It was beamed to 107 countries, making television history. Our own Maestro Zubin Mehta led the forces of the Roma Symphony Orchestra and the Chorus of Italian Radio, with the roles of Tosca, Cavaradossi and Scarpia taken by Catherine Malfitano, Plácido Domingo and Ruggero Raimondi. Although the cast were onsite at the three locations, they were in contact through high-quality miniature radio microphones hidden on their costumes and in their hair as well as camouflaged television monitors and loudspeakers with Mehta, orchestra and chorus, who were far away in a recording studio on the other side of Rome. The musicians had more monitors and individual sets of headphones. The logistic challenges of filming and recording the three Acts were formidable for a whole host of reasons, not least of them the natural acoustic which varied in the three locations: Sant’Andrea della Valle has a nine-second reverberation, while Castel Sant’Angelo is comparatively dry, and the Palazzo Farnese was deemed to have the “perfect” acoustic compared to the other two.

The whole 1992 Tosca broadcast is available to view on YouTube.

“Recondita armonia”, “Vissi d’arte” and “E lucevan le stelle” are some of the great arias in Tosca, contributing to its immense popularity. “E lucevan le stelle” is a favourite with many of the world’s great tenors, with Domingo, Luciano Pavarotti, José Carreras and Roberto Alagna to name just a few, making it one of their signature arias. And in the popular realm, Michael Bolton has performed it as well on tour.

(An edited version of this article was published on 22 June 2014 in my column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Panorama section of the Navhind Times Goa India)

Stefi Cruz to represent India in Commonwealth Youth Orchestra

Stefi Cruz, a young violinist and teacher from Aldona Goa has been selected to represent India to play in the Commonwealth Youth Orchestra. The Commonwealth Youth Orchestra and Choir are a creation of the Commonwealth Music Partnership, which has Queen Elizabeth II as Diamond Jubilee Patron, and Maestro Zubin Mehta as Music Patron. She spoke to the Navhind Times in an exclusive interview.

Stefi Cruz press release

Congratulations on this fabulous opportunity. Tell us how it came about.

I’ve been working for the last year and a half as a violin teacher at Child’s Play India Foundation (www.childsplayindia.org), a music charity that works to bring classical music to India’s disadvantaged children, instilling positive values and creating social empowerment through music.

Child’s Play is one of the few institutions from India chosen to join the Commonwealth Music Partnership. In May, they invited Child’s Play to send a representative in a fully-funded opportunity to play in the violin section of the Commonwealth Youth Orchestra as part of the build-up to the Commonwealth Games Glasgow 2014. I auditioned and was selected.

Where will you be playing?

The Commonwealth Youth Orchestra will have three concert performances: in the Royal Concert Hall Glasgow; and St. James’s Palace and the Commonwealth Secretariat, Marlborough House, London between 23 to 25 June. It’s going to be a hectic time for me.

Do you know the concert programmes yet?

Yes, the music has been emailed to me in advance. Our concert repertoire will include Antonio Vivaldi’s Concerto for Strings in A major; Concerto for Violin and Strings no. 2 by Paul Carroll; The Commonwealth Song and Anthem; an extract from Henry Purcell’s ‘Come Ye Sons of Art’; and a string piece also by Paul Carroll called ‘Castle of Mey’ (which is the home of the Queen Mother in Caithness, on the north coast of Scotland).

How do you feel at the prospect of this trip? How have you been preparing for it?

I’m incredibly excited as this is going to be my first overseas trip ever. And it’s going to be such a novel experience, meeting other young musicians from all the other Commonwealth countries.

I’ve been working very hard to learn the music scores. I’ve been assigned the first violin part, which has some extremely challenging passages in the upper register.

Tell us how you began studying the violin. You come from a musical family, don’t you?

My father Douglas Cruz played guitar in several popular bands, and my mother Esperanca acted and sang in Konkani tiatr. My sisters Joy, Sandy and I are triplets. Both of them play keyboard and sing. I began violin study at age 9. My long-term teachers include Caridade Fernandes, Eshvita Nazareth and George Gama.

How long have you been a violin teacher?

I have been teaching privately for about nine years, and at the Pilar music school for seven. I have been with Child’s Play, teaching at the Salesian-run Auxilium School Carona Aldona since January 2013.

Since joining Child’s Play India Foundation, it has sponsored and furthered my own professional training in several ways. Masterclasses with the violinist Rasa Zukauskaite greatly improved my confidence in violin playing and my technique. The intensive Suzuki Violin teacher training programme taught me the principles of the Suzuki ethos, and methods of teaching. Most recently, the week-long Trinity Laban Summer Music Academy course in Mumbai was extremely helpful in planning my sessions, and dealing with various scenarios in the teacher-pupil relationship, and learning new teaching strategies. There are so many facets of the teaching and learning process that I had not considered before.

What of the future?

This wonderful opportunity I have been given will certainly widen my horizons and give me a broader perspective which I can impart to my pupils as well. It also promises to be the first of many more opportunities for the children being taught at Child’s Play India Foundation, for their teaching staff and the musicians who play in Camerata Child’s Play India.

(An edited version of this article appeared in the Navhind Times on 20 June 2014)

Stefi Cruz to represent India in Commonwealth Youth Orchestra in London and Glasgow

Stefi Cruz press release

 

Stefi Cruz, a young violinist and teacher from Aldona Goa has been selected to represent India on behalf of Child’s Play India Foundation (www.childsplayindia.org) to play in the Commonwealth Youth Orchestra. The Commonwealth Youth Orchestra and Choir are a creation of the Commonwealth Music Partnership, which has Queen Elizabeth II as Diamond Jubilee Patron, and Maestro Zubin Mehta as Music Patron. 

This is a fully-funded opportunity created by the Partnership as part of the build-up to the Commonwealth Games Glasgow 2014. Stefi Cruz will play in the Commonwealth Youth Orchestra in three concert performances in the Royal Concert Hall Glasgow, and St. James’s Palace and the Commonwealth Secretariat, Marlborough House, London between 23 to 25 June. 

Stefi Cruz comes from a musical family. Her father Douglas Cruz played guitar in several popular bands, and her triplet siblings Joy and Sandy play keyboard and sing. Stefi began violin study at age 9, and her long-term teachers include Caridade Fernandes, Eshvita Nazareth and George Gama. She has been teaching violin for several years, and has been with Child’s Play as a violin teacher since 2013.

Child’s Play India Foundation is one of the only institutions in India chosen by the Commonwealth Music Partnership. This promises to be the first of many more opportunities for Child’s Play children, staff and Camerata musicians. Child’s Play India Foundation is a music charity that works to bring classical music to India’s disadvantaged children, instilling positive values and creating social empowerment through music.  

Austen-tatious music

pride_prejudice

The 2005 film adaptation of Jane Austen’s classic ‘novel of manners’ Pride and Prejudice (starring Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen in the lead roles of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy) keeps resurfacing on cable television. It still nevertheless loses none of its appeal. The timelessness of Austen’s writing and the casting and cinematography of the film are responsible for much of this, but Dario Marianelli’s atmospheric music score enriches it immeasurably. Not surprisingly, the movie soundtrack (performed by Jean-Yves Thibaudet, piano, and the English Chamber Orchestra) received an Oscar nomination and two World Soundtrack Academy nominations.

Marianelli and director Joe Wright at their very first meeting apparently discussed the ‘early’ piano sonatas of Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827). This is interesting, because although Austen’s novel was published in 1813, Wright decided to set the film during the period when Austen began its first draft (1796-97), which coincides with the ‘Early’ period in Beethoven’s compositional output. This “became a point of reference” and “starting point” for Marianelli’s own original score.

Several scenes in the film have actors playing the piano, and this compelled Marianelli to write many of these pieces even before filming commenced. In an interview, he revealed, “Those pieces already contained the seeds of what I developed later on into the score, when I abandoned historical correctness for a more intimate and emotional treatment of the story.” Marianelli could not be present for the filming of these scenes due to the birth of his daughter.

There is much attention to detail, even when extraneous music is chosen in the film. For instance, the marching tune “The Militia marches in” (where one of the giddy-headed younger Bennet sisters drops her kerchief in the hope that a gallant officer might pick it up and talk to her) is based on “The British Grenadiers” which dates from the same period. The British army probably marched to this tune as they fought the colonists in the American Revolutionary War as well.

“Meryton Townhall” (played at the local assembly ball where Elizabeth and Darcy first meet) and “Another Dance” both have real dance cues that were prevalent in the late eighteenth century.

Music critic William Ruhlmann in his review for Billboard felt that Marianelli’s music had a “strong Romantic flavor to accompany the familiar romantic plot.” The spirit of Beethoven breathes through much of the piano music in the film. But one hears musical tributes to other composers not from the Romantic era as well.

In fact, one track is explicitly titled “A Postcard to Henry Purcell”. It takes a rondeau theme used by Purcell (1659-1695) as incidental music to Abdelazer, or The Moor’s Revenge, a play by his contemporary Aphra Behn. The same theme was also used by Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) as the theme for his set of variations The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra. Marianelli uses it as dancing music at the Netherfield ball, where Lizzy and Darcy dance for the first time. The tune is played by a solitary violin when it begins, and very sparsely orchestrated later, perhaps to bring out the verbal sparring between the protagonists. At the close, there is a slight swell in both volume and orchestral colour just as the other dancing partners momentarily “vanish” and the couple seem alone on the ballroom floor.

The main theme of the film (titled ‘Dawn’, played dreamily as a piano solo by Jean-Yves Thibaudet at the opening of the film; and ‘Mrs. Darcy’ when joined by the English Chamber Orchestra at the close) seems to somehow capture the essence of the novel, and the world in which it is set. It appears again and again in various ingenious guises. For instance, when Elizabeth is prevailed upon to play the pianoforte for Lady Catherine, she picks out this tune, but hesitantly and perfunctorily, in the manner of an étude that a middle-grade piano student would be required to learn.

In “Leaving Netherfield”, the theme acquires an Elgarian air, with more than a trace of the opening theme of his Enigma Variations encoded within. This gives it just the right dash of wistfulness and gloom to match the accompanying scene.

Although Marianelli is Italian-born, he has made England his home. And with the nods to Purcell and Elgar, the music takes on a dyed-in-the-wool British hue.

Writing a score for a classic like Pride and Prejudice is quite a daunting challenge, especially because of the high benchmark set previously by Carl Davis in the 1995 television adaptation of the novel. It has to have the element of ‘cowpat’ music, a taste of rural England; and it should have classical daintiness and elegance while still having a mix of drama and romance. Marianelli manages to pull this off in great style.

Interestingly, Carl Davis also used Beethoven as his “starting point” in the 1995 version, in particular one of his septets, but from the early 1800s, as this version chose to set the novel in the decade in which it was published.

Why Beethoven? Well, the pianoforte finds mention several times, and there are thirteen references to music in Austen’s novel. Mr. Darcy’s sister Georgiana is an accomplished pianist. And Beethoven stands like a colossus of the instrument and indeed of all music for the era depicted in the novel, and continues to cast his shadow to the present day.

Also, perhaps the scowling, brooding character of Mr. Darcy does have some similarities to that of Beethoven. Sadly unlike the novel, there was no happy ending for Beethoven and his own “Immortal Beloved”.

(An edited version of this article was published on 15 June 2014 in my column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Panorama section of the Navhind Times Goa India)

World Busk!

David Juritz is a remarkable individual on so many levels. Born in Cape Town South Africa, he won a scholarship to study at London’s Royal College of Music, where he won all the major prizes for violin, including the college’s highest award, the Tagore Medal.

On leaving the RCM, he joined the English Chamber Orchestra. From 1991 to 2010 he was the leader of the London Mozart Players, the longest serving leader in that orchestra’s history. He made many appearances as soloist and director with them, including his debut at the 2006 BBC Promenade Concerts. He has also directed and/or appeared as soloist with the Royal Philharmonic, Zurich Chamber Orchestra, Mozart Festival Orchestra, Johann Strauss Orchestra, London Concert Orchestra and many other ensembles.

He is one of the most versatile violinists in the UK, dividing his time between solo performances, directing, chamber music, working as guest leader with many of Britain’s finest orchestras and leading his own group, the London Tango Quintet.

In addition to this, Juritz did and amazing thing. In 2007, he took a five-month sabbatical to busk around the world. He describes how it all transpired: “As I was approaching my 50th birthday, I took stock. With a long-held unrealised ambition – to busk round the world – and a need to do something a bit different, I decided it was now or never. A round-the-world busk for charity.”
“I had been inspired by the work of organisations like El Sistema in Venezuela and Buskaid in South Africa. Both support music education for children, and I wanted to do something to help teachers start similar projects in developing countries. Since no charity existed that was dedicated to helping teachers over the first and biggest hurdle – buying instruments and setting up the project – Musequality was formed to fill this gap.”

The plan was simple. Juritz left his home with his fiddle, backpack and an empty wallet, busking his way around the world. Since he would focus on the solo violin repertoire of Johann Sebastian Bach, the enterprise was creatively titled “Round the World and Bach”. He busked in over 50 towns and cities in 24 countries in every continent (with the exception of Antarctica!), with the final stop at the British Prime Minister’s residence, 10 Downing Street. Juritz played through all of Bach’s six sonatas and partitas for solo violin as he went along; he estimates that he must have played theE major prelude from Partita no. 3 over 300 times, and the famous Chaconne about 180 times.

And so Musequality (www.musequality.org), a charity that supports music education for disadvantaged children in developing countries, was born. And since the charity itself owed its genesis to busking, World Busk (www.worldbusk.org) was launched as well as an annual event. Each year, for a week in June, musicians all over the world busk ie. (perform in public places to raise funds) for Musequality projects around the world, in Uganda, Kenya, India and Thailand. World Busk is a truly global affair

Musequality was a huge source of encouragement and support in getting Child’s Play India Foundation off the ground. I met with Juritz in London shortly after his round-the-world busk, and just before my wife and I returned to India to set up Child’s Play.

Child’s Play has participated in World Busk since its inception in 2009, and each time our events keep getting bigger and better. For many years, we were the solitary dot on the subcontinent on the World Busk map, in stark contrast to the abundant number of busking events in the United Kingdom, Europe, North America, Australia and south-East Asia. This year we are joined in Mumbai by the NSPA, the National Streets for Performing Arts. The World Busk week has also drawn the attention of the national press this year, with coverage by the Indian Express and the Hindustan Times.

worldbusk2014

World Busk 2014 runs from 9-15 June. Child’s Play India Foundation is celebrating it by hosting two charity concerts, on 14 & 15 June in association with Gallery Gitanjali Fontainhas Panjim and Aldona Institute respectively. The concerts will feature Camerata Child’s Play India in a programme that will include Mozart’s delightful Divertimento in D major, K 136 (125a); Gioseffo Hectore Fiocco’s Allegro arranged for string ensemble by Elaine Fine; and in a nod to JS Bach who has played such a major role in the creation of World Busk, we will play an arrangement of his famous Cantata no. 205, “Sheep may safely graze”.

The evenings will also present our Child’s Play kids, playing individually and in groups, and with our Camerata musicians. The will be a couple of children from other walks of life too, making the music-making enterprise a truly egalitarian one.

Camerata Child’s Play India was created a year ago in April 2013, with the aim not only of giving young Goan musicians a chance to perform in public, and to hone their skills in regular ensemble playing alongside the visiting musicians of very high calibre who come to work with Child’s Play; but it was also created with the aim of eventually giving our Child’s Play kids a platform to play along with us, once they advanced to a certain level. I am pleased to say that this day has come.  

We will have Irfan Shimpighar, one of our violin kids from Panjim share a desk in the violin section at these concerts. I am confident that this number will increase, and the day is not far off when we will have a Junior Camerata made up of our Child’s Play kids.

Other musicians are joining into. Classical guitarist Shyamant Behal will play a few pieces, adding to the eclectic mix of music on offer. The concerts are free and open to all.

Classical Music at the Movies: 2001 A Space Odyssey and Thus Spake Zarathushtra

This week marks the 150th birth anniversary of Richard Strauss (1864-1949), leading German composer of the late Romantic and early ‘modern’ eras. It is a good time to take a closer look at one of his compositions, the tone poem ‘Thus spake Zarathushtra’, inspired by the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s eponymous novel, and today familiar to the general public after its initial fanfare was incorporated into Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 landmark film 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Nietzsche’s book chronicles the imaginary travels and speeches of Zarathushtra. Although the name obviously alludes to the prophet and founder of Zoroastrianism, the religion of the Parsis, Nietzsche seems to portray a “new” Zarathushtra who turns traditional morality on its head.

Richard Strauss’ tone poems are widely considered the pinnacle of programme music in the later half of the nineteenth century, pushing its boundaries and possibilities and the whole concept of ‘realism’ to extents not attempted before.

A tone poem or symphonic poem is a work of orchestral music, usually in a single continuous section (or a movement in musical terms) that illustrates or evokes the content of a non-musical source, such as a poem, novel, short story, painting, landscape, etc.

In 1885, Strauss met composer-violinist Alexander Ritter, husband to Richard Wagner’s niece and already composer of six symphonic poems similar to those of Franz Liszt. Ritter convinced Strauss to make a change from the conservative compositional style of his youth, and embrace the “music of the future”, the tone poem. Before long, Strauss was espousing the slogan “New ideas must seek new forms”, and deriding the conventional sonata form as a mere “hollow shell”.

By the time he came round to composing ‘Thus Spake Zarathushtra’ in 1896, Strauss was already a veteran at tone poems, having written five of them (‘Aus Italien’, ‘Don Juan’, ‘Macbeth’, ‘Death and Transfiguration’ and ‘Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks’). And he would write four more after it.

The music of Richard Wagner had a profound influence on Strauss, but by 1896, Strauss had assumed his own distinct musical identity. His choice of a work by Nietzsche (who himself was a former Wagner devotee but later became one of his most strident critics) is significant.

Strauss’ programmatic intent was clear” “I meant to convey in music the idea of the evolution of the human race from its origin, through the various phases of development, religious as well as scientific, up to Nietzsche’s idea of the Superman”.

The composition has nine sections, named after selected chapters of Nietzsche’s book, with only three definite pauses: Introduction or Sunrise; Of Those in Backwaters; Of the Great Longing; Of Joys and Passions; The Song of the Grave; Of Science and Learning; The Convalescent; The Dance Song; and Song of the Night Wanderer.

It is the first section Introduction or Sunrise (Einleitung oder Sonnenaufgang) that is so evocatively used at the beginning of 2001: A Space Odyssey. It is the perfect choice, a ‘Surya Namaskaar’ in music. The sustained note (double low C) in the double basses, contrabassoon and organ seems to be a metaphor for at once the darkness before the dawn, as well as the primordial stirrings of Life itself. This sets the stage for the brass fanfare, the Dawn motif, three notes in intervals of a fifth and an octave (C-G-C), before all the orchestral forces are brought to bear rising to a peak, with a sonic ‘explosion’. This happens in three waves, interspersed by a dramatic beat on the timpani; and after the last and loudest climax, the chord is held for a while, with the orchestral forces dropping off leaving just the vibrations of the chord on the pipe organ to end this short section.

It is milked to the limit for its dramatic effect in the Kubrick film. After the MGM logo has made its appearance signaling that the film has begun, the screen is pitch-black when we hear the low note, more a vibration than a legitimate sound. As the first fanfare breaks through this texture, we dimly make out what looks like the outline of a celestial body in outer space, viewed tangentially from above. As the volume builds, so does the visibility and we make out yet another planet behind it, and the Sun beginning to peep from behind this farther body. It is only at the final climax that the title of the movie flashes across the screen, to create the maximum impact.

The Dawn motif, also known as the Nature motif, keeps recurring in various ingenious guises in Strauss’ tone poem.

As dialogue is scarce in the Kubrick film, music occupies an extraordinarily important role in it. Initially Kubrick had commissioned music for the soundtrack of 2001 from composer Alex North (who had written the music for the earlier Kubrick film Dr. Strangelove). But post-production, Kubrick abandoned North’s music in favour of classical music works such as Richard Strauss’ Zarathustra. Particularly memorable also is the use of the music of another Strauss: Johann Strauss II’s Blue Danube waltz during the extended space-station docking and lunar landing sequences. This and the Richard Strauss Sunrise excerpt were performed by the Vienna Philharmonic conducted by Herbert von Karajan.

Other excerpts from the classical music repertoire include Gayane’s Adagio from Aram Khachaturian’s Gayane ballet suite, and four extremely modernistic compositions by György Ligeti, that employ micropolyphony, the use of dissonant chords that shift slowly. In fact Ligeti was doubly offended by the inclusion of his music in the film: first, that permission was not obtained directly from him, and secondly, that his music had to rub shoulders with two Strausses, Johann and Richard!

Richard Strauss’ Sunrise theme has seen life after the 2001 film as well. Eumir Deodato ‘s funk arrangement of it climbed to #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the US in 1973, and #7 on the UK Singles chart. Elvis Presley used the opening fanfare to open his concerts and as the introduction to some of his live albums. Who said classical music wasn’t hot, or “cool”, or indeed, “out of this world”?

(An edited version of this article was published on 8 June 2014 in my weekend column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Panorama section of the Navhind Times Goa India)

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