West-Eastern Divan: A Creative Cascade encompassing Poetry, Music and Collaboration across Cultural Divides

During my years as a GP in Buckinghamshire, I served a patient list that was over 75% Pakistani. From them, I learnt that the title ‘Hafiz’ meant that that person had memorised the entire Holy Qur’an.

To my Iranian patients however, Hafiz had an additional meaning. It is the name of their revered 14th century poet (full name Khwāja Shams-ud-Dīn Muhammad Hāfez-e Shīrāzī) whose poems lauding the joys of love and wine but also targeting religious hypocrisy are part of popular lore even today, quoted as proverbs and witticisms.

The poetry of Hafiz has influenced others since, throughout the Islamic world. His work was translated into English in 1771, extending his influence much further. Ralph Waldo Emerson called him a ‘poet’s poet’ and writers and thinkers as varied as Thoreau, Arthur Conan Doyle and Henry Wilberforce Clarke fell under his spell. Most famously, the German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was inspired to write an anthology of poems (‘diwan’ which means a collection or assembly in Arabic) titled West-östliche Divan (West-Eastern Divan) in 1814-19. It would be Goethe’s last great cycle of poetry (there are twelve books with exotic titles) and was stimulated by the translation of Hafiz’ poems by orientalist Joseph von Hammer but also by his infatuation and correspondence with Austrian dancer and actress Marianne von Willemer. Goethe immortalises her in one of the twelve books (Buch Suleika) of the cycle.

Goethe was deeply interested in the Middle East; at 23, he had written a poem in praise of the Prophet Mohammed. He became increasingly fascinated with the Qur’an and by the elevated style of Islamic scripture, as a holy text and as poetry. He saw in Hafez a ‘twin soul’, a kindred spirit. Goethe’s life-affirming and sensual Divan is essentially a ‘response’, a love poem to Hafiz. His output brought the lyric mode of the Oriental tradition to European poetry, taking poetry back to its musical roots and reintroducing words to the physical pulse of song.

They both lived in interesting times: Hafiz had seen Persia invaded by Timurlane and even met him; Goethe had lived through the Napoleonic Wars, and likewise met the invader, Napoleon. Goethe loved also the contradictions within Hafiz: religious yet unorthodox; virtuoso poet yet hedonist; earthy and ethereal.

In the centre of a park in Goethe’s city Weimar, there is a contemporary bronze and stone sculpture to commemorate his West-östliche Divan: two grand chairs face each other across a stone base, decorated with Arabic script. The quote from Goethe translates: “Those who know themselves and others/Will realise here too/That the Orient and the Occident/Have become Inseparable.” Goethe’s Divan is a salutation to the Orient.

Over a century and a half later, when Palestinian-American intellectual Edward Said (1935-2003) wrote his famous book ‘Orientalism’ (1978), a critical study of the inaccurate cultural representations that influenced how the West regards the East, he made a distinction between Goethe’s work on the one hand, and those of others who sought to appropriate the Orient. The phrase “west-eastern” in the title refers not just to an exchange between Germany and the Middle East, but also between Latin and Persian culture, as well as the Christian and Muslim cultures. Goethe saw that both sides would gain by this inter-cultural dialogue.

Said through a chance meeting became a great friend of Argentinean-Israeli pianist-conductor Daniel Barenboim, and their exchanges on music, culture and humanity inevitably addressed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They realised the “urgent need for an alternative way” to resolve this impasse.

Together they founded in 1999 an orchestra incorporating Israeli, Palestinian and other Arab musicians. The title of the Goethe work seemed apt as a name for this ensemble, and Weimar the logical choice for its first workshop. But there was an additional significance; to quote from the orchestra’s website: “Meeting in Weimar, Germany – a place where the humanistic ideals of the Enlightenment are overshadowed by the Holocaust – they materialized a hope to replace ignorance with education, knowledge and understanding; to humanize the other; to imagine a better future.”

In 2002, the orchestra was given a home in Seville in Andalucia; the region was once famed for its ‘convivencia’, a sustained co-existence among Muslims, Christians and Jews in Europe. The orchestra website is quadrilingual: Arabic, Hebrew, English and Spanish.

By bringing together Arab and Israeli musicians, the West-Eastern Divan orchestra defies fierce political divides in the Middle East. As Barenboim often explains, when two musicians share a music stand and play a note together, all extraneous differences vanish, and a commonality is established, which is the foundation for dialogue and understanding, of ‘harmony’ in more ways than one.

In his words: “The Divan is not a love story, and it is not a peace story. It has very flatteringly been described as a project for peace. It isn’t. It’s not going to bring peace, whether you play well or not so well. The Divan was conceived as a project against ignorance. A project against the fact that it is absolutely essential for people to get to know the other, to understand what the other thinks and feels, without necessarily agreeing with it. I’m not trying to convert the Arab members of the Divan to the Israeli point of view, and [I’m] not trying to convince the Israelis to the Arab point of view. But I want to…create a platform where the two sides can disagree and not resort to knives.”

The orchestra performed at the BBC Proms festival at the Royal Albert Hall London this year, their twelfth performance at this prestigious festival since their first invitation there in 2003, barely four years after their inception, quite an achievement. I listened to that concert via internet radio, and it was heartening to see Israeli cellist Ali Tal (who recently performed as part of the Fidelio Piano Trio with Patricia Rozario in Goa at the Child’s Play benefit concert ) in its ranks.

west eastern divan orchestra bbc proms 2015

Barenboim was keen also to bring Iranian musicians, although Iran is strictly speaking not an Arab country. Nevertheless it is a significant factor in the Middle East, and perhaps the inclusion is also a nod to Hafiz. 

(An edited version of this article was published on 4 October 2015 in my weekend column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Panorama section of the Navhind Times Goa India)

Art is certainly Calling for You, Joanne!

Sadly, due to the Ganesh Chathurthi public holiday, it was not possible to accommodate Joanne D’Mello’s concert either at the Kala Academy or at Menezes Braganza. Rudi Kammermeier therefore deserves all praise for stepping in at very short notice and saving the day by hosting her concert at his Art Chamber, Calangute.

The programme presented by Joanne D’Mello (soprano) and Sung-Ah Park (piano) had Lieder in its first half, and songs and arias in its second. There were several unifying strands running throughout, weaving a rich and colourful tapestry: three poems of the German Romantic poet Eduard Mörike set to music by Hugo Wolf (Mörike Lieder); two Lieder inspired by characters (Philine and Mignon) from the great German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s novel ‘Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre’ (Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship) and set to music by Robert Schumann and Franz Schubert; the poems of W.H. (Wystan Hugh) Auden providing the muse to Benjamin Britten.

The poetry of Friedrich Rückert (the much-loved ‘Widmung’ or Dedication) and Julius Moser (‘Der Nußbaum’, The Walnut Tree) also featured among the Schumann Lieder on offer. Were fish also on the menu? Two Schubert Lieder (the famous Trout ‘Die Forelle’, D 550; and ‘Liebhaber in allen Gestalten’, Lover in all forms D 558) and one Mörike Lied (‘Nixe Binsefuß’, The Mermaid Rushfoot) had a distinct piscine aroma. Another notable marriage of poetry and music on the programme was George Crumb’s first song ‘The Night in Silence under Many a Star’ from ‘Apparition’, with its text extracted from Walt Whitman’s “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed”, part of a set of poems grouped under the title ‘Memories of President Lincoln’, written by the poet just weeks after Lincoln’s assassination.

With the Kurt Weill selection, we got a chanson (‘Je ne t’aime pas’ ‘I don’t love you’, lyrics by Maurice Magre) and the ultimate tango habanera, ‘Youkali’. And for good measure, two arias, one each from an opera and an operetta (or ‘musikalische Komödie’, musical comedy, to be precise). ‘O mio babbino caro’ from Giacomo Puccini’s one-act opera ‘Gianni Schicchi’ has become Joanne’s signature aria, her calling card, and justifiably so. And the soprano aria “Meine Lippen, sie küssen so heiß”(‘My lips they kiss like fire’, or more literally, ‘so hot’) is the highlight of Franz Lehár’s ‘Giuditta’.

Joanne’s star is in the ascendant right now. After her BMus (Bachelor of Music) at the Royal College of Music London where she studied with Patricia Rozario OBE, and took masterclasses with some of the greatest singers of our time, notably Ann Murray, Sir Thomas Allen, Matthias Goerne and Ian Bostridge, she attended the Flanders Operastudio in Ghent, Belgium. She went on to sing at the opera houses in Antwerp, Brussels and Bruges as well.

Joanne has blossomed further at her current location in Leipzig, Germany, where she has been since 2013 after winning a DAAD Artist Scholarship with Professor Regina Werner-Dietrich at the Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy Hochschule für Musik und Theater.

In July this year, she was chosen to play the role of Susanna in Mozart’s comic opera ‘Die Hochzeit des Figaro’ (The Marriage of Figaro) at the Junge Oper Schloss Weikersheim, the only Indian in the multi-national cast that also featured soloists from Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Hungary, Croatia, China, South Korea and Australia. Her performance obviously seems to have impressed the right people, because she has been invited to reprise the role at the Leipzig Oper later this year.


This should come as no surprise to those of us present at her recital in Calangute on 18 September. Clad in a sari reminiscent of her mentor Patricia Rozario, Joanne cut a formidable figure. Her enunciation of the German text in the Lieder was truly impeccable, and she displayed a deep sensitivity to the musical character, and the spirit and the meaning of the words. We felt with her the agitation in ‘Nun wer die Sehnsucht kennt’ (‘Only one who knows longing’), and shared her delight in the darting of the Trout. We revelled in the beauty of her tone, its many colours, and her commendable control of phrasing.

The choice of programme allowed us to experience the gamut of emotion from the tragic to the comic, and Joanne displays an innate ‘feel’ for the stage as she ‘treads the boards.’ There was split-second timing required for the delivery in the Lehár, for example (and in the encores), and she completely went with the flow, thus allowing the extraneous circumstances to enhance rather than mar the moment. The sound of fireworks due to the Ganesh festivities nearby may at first have intruded, but they actually became ‘part’ of the performance, a sort of Proms-in-Hyde-Park experience. Indeed, some of us could actually witness the explosions through the Art Chamber’s glass dome and windows, a visual complement to the aural pyrotechnics we were enjoying indoors.

The encores were Benjamin Britten’s setting of W. H. Auden’s poem ‘O Tell Me The Truth About Love’, and Victor Herbert’s bring-the-house-down ‘Art is Calling for Me’ from his operetta ‘The Enchantress’, both of which were delivered with panache. As the song goes, Art is certainly Calling (and a Calling) for you, Joanne. You already ‘shine upon the stage’!

Joanne couldn’t have asked for a better collaborator than Sung-Ah Park, a pianist of superlative sensitivity and artistry, and a remarkable ability to conjure atmosphere in her playing. She has an instinct for detail, moulding her playing around the vocal lines and brilliantly conveying the nuances of the piano writing. One is much more than an ‘accompanist’ in so much of the repertoire, certainly in the piano parts of the Lieder of the pianist-composers Schubert, Schumann, Mendelssohn and Wolf, as also the works of Weill and Britten that featured on the programme. The pianist is in effect another ‘actor’ (albeit an often unobtrusive one) upon the concert stage, and deserving of as much applause as the ‘soloist’ being ‘accompanied.’ It was wonderful to hear that Park has been offered a teaching post at the Leipzig Conservatory.

Both these young musicians are in their prime, and have the world at their feet. We wish them every success, and hope to hear them again here very soon!

(An edited version of this article was published on 27 September 2015 in my weekend column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Panorama section of the Navhind Times Goa India)



Have you ever had a tune ‘embed’ itself in your brain and refuse to leave? I had this nightmarish experience during a written examination (thankfully not an important one) in my 2nd MBBS. I’d love to tell you it was an excerpt from a Mahler symphony or a Beethoven sonata, but it was in fact “Frankie (Do You Remember Me)” by Sister Sledge.

The early 1980s were a technological revolution for me. From listening to spool tapes, LPs and 45s in a designated part of the house, we had made the switch to a much more portable cassette player, and around 1984 I had been presented with a stereo Walkman, which was the height of portability then, and über ‘cool’. I must have been listening to a tape which included “Frankie” while studying for my microbiology test, and its peppy beat and lyrics ‘grabbed’ me.

brain worms

When we got the paper, it was, if I remember right, an essay question on some micro-organism, Staphyloccocus aureus or Klebsiella. But each time I tried to recall what I knew about it, the song would start to ‘play’ in my head, and I just couldn’t ‘switch’ it off. This had never ever happened to me before, and it really scared me. I remember looking helplessly about as everyone else scribbled away, while I tried in vain to get the music to stop. The lyrics seemed to taunt me: “Do you Remember?” But I just couldn’t remember anything I’d studied. It put me off listening to anything ‘catchy’ while studying, at least for a long while, until I lapsed back into it.

I was reminded of this while re-reading ‘Musicophilia’ by the famous neurologist and author Oliver Sacks (1933-2015), in the wake of his death last month. It is a fascinating work, and my first introduction to his brilliant writing. I had browsed through his other books in bookshops but bought this one, perhaps because it brought music and medicine together so wonderfully, two disciplines that are also important to me.


The subject of “Brainworms, Sticky Music, and Catchy Tunes” like the one (“Frankie”) that caught me so suddenly and dramatically has a whole chapter devoted to it in Sacks’ book, in its first part “Haunted by Music”.

Other portions of the book also resonated within my experience, if not first-hand, then through those of people I knew. The experiences of some of Sacks’ patients after a stroke reminded me of Vere da Silva, easily the most accomplished violinist, conductor and consummate musician in my extended family. I remember how after his first stroke, when classical music (which he had obviously loved so much) was played, he would indicate that it be switched off. At that time, I had felt that perhaps the music was a bitter reminder of what he was (temporarily, thankfully) unable to do due to the hemi-paresis. But perhaps there was also a sensory aspect to the cerebral insult, in that he might have been for a while unable to process the auditory signals as music. As I said, he mercifully regained these faculties with time.

Sacks’ case histories often read stranger than fiction: a surgeon struck by lightning in a phone booth survives this near-death experience only to develop a curious, out-of-nowhere, out-of-character craving for learning the piano, and piano music; “musical hallucinations” in a whole host of subjects; a musical savant with a ‘phonographic’ memory for melodies of hundreds of operas in their entirety, which includes individual instrumental and vocal parts; and so on. The book pulls you in despite the verbose footnotes, often peppered with medical jargon.

There is also a sobering cautionary note regarding the harmful effects of loud music: “Unlike the eye, the organ of Corti is well protected from accidental injury; it is lodged deep in the head, encased in the petrous bone, the densest in the body….But, protected as it is from gross injuries, the organ of Corti, with its delicate hair cells, is highly vulnerable in other ways –vulnerable, as a start, to loud noise. Every ambulance siren or garbage truck exacts a cost, to say nothing of airplanes, rock concerts, blaring iPods, and the like.”

I was recently saddened to hear of the deafness acquired by a dear friend, musician and music-lover, who in his youth would listen to music through earplug-shaped speakers, in retrospect, at a dangerously high volume. He is now unable to hear sounds within a specific frequency range in one ear. That is to say, he is able to “hear”, but what he experiences is a distortion of the actual sound. The damage, sadly, is irreversible. This is why I feel so concerned about increasing noise pollution in our everyday lives; we are all, whether we realise it or not, growing progressively, inexorably and irreversibly deaf.

Sacks has written other best-selling books, mostly also collections of case studies of people with neurological disorders. They have esoteric titles: ‘The Man who Mistook His Wife for a Hat’; ‘A Leg to Stand On’; ‘An Anthropologist on Mars’.

The New York Times called him the ‘poet laureate of contemporary medicine’. Atul Gawande, another wonderful writer of medical case studies and the ethical, moral and philosophical dilemmas presented in active medical practice, freely acknowledges his debt to Sacks. I love his work too. In his tribute to Sacks in the September 2015 issue of The New Yorker, Gawande writes: “No-one taught me more about how to be a doctor than Oliver Sacks”; high praise indeed, as both Gawande’s parents were doctors. Gawande goes on to laud Sacks’ “inquisitiveness and observational power” and the manner in which “he captured both the medical and the human drama of illness, and the task of the clinician observing it.”

Critics have, in a parody of one of his book titles, called Sacks “the man who mistook his patients for a literary career”, and termed his work a “high-brow freak show”. Sacks responded to criticism: “I would hope that a reading of what I write shows respect and appreciation, not any wish to expose or exhibit for the thrill…” This is how it comes across to most of us, and how he will be remembered.

(An edited version of this article was published on 20 September 2015 in my weekend column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Panorama section of the Navhind Times Goa India)

Billroth and Brahms: “Science and Art scoop from the same well”

If you were to ask a surgeon, or indeed anyone who has studied medicine beyond the second year what Billroth I & II mean, they would at once tell you that the terms refer to complex surgical procedures performed on the gastrointestinal tract in the treatment of refractory peptic ulcer and stomach cancer.

The contribution to surgery by Christian Albert Theodor Billroth (1829-1894) is huge. He introduced the concept of audits, publishing all results irrespective of outcome, paving the way for mortality and morbidity statistics that are commonplace in the medical field today.


His experience at a military hospital during the Franco-Prussian war led him to push for improvements in transportation of the wounded in battle. He gave a speech on War Budget in 1891, underlining the need for an efficient ambulance service.

His ingenious ability to invent new surgical techniques and procedures earned him the title “Surgeon of great initiatives”. He pioneered plastic surgery, especially of the face. He is credited with the first oesophagectomy (1871), the first laryngectomy (1873), and the first successful gastrectomy (1881), after several failed attempts. Some sources claim that Billroth was nearly stoned to death in Vienna after the first patient upon whom he attempted a gastrectomy died of the procedure. However the surgical techniques (Billroth I & II) elaborated by him have stood the test of time and are still in use.

But Billroth I & II have another meaning. In the music world, certainly among chamber musicians, they indicate Brahms’ string quartets no. 1 & 2 from his Opus 51. This is because Billroth, besides being the “father of modern abdominal surgery” was also a skilled amateur pianist and violinist, music critic and close personal friend of Johannes Brahms.


Billroth’s love of music began early, often at the peril of his studies, causing him to spend more hours at piano practice than at his books. Although torn between music and medicine, he acceded to his mother’s wishes, enrolling as a medical student in Greifwald and completing his medical doctorate at the University of Berlin.

Billroth and Brahms met in Zurich in 1865, when Brahms was beginning to be noticed and recognised. Billroth accepted the chair of surgery at the University of Vienna in 1867, and Brahms moved to that city two years later. Their friendship quickly blossomed, and lasted more than thirty years. Brahms valued Billroth’s opinion so much that he often sent his original manuscripts for his assessment before they could be published. Billroth also encouraged Brahms to publish many of his later compositions, and might have saved these for posterity. So much of Brahms’ output was consigned by the extremely self-critical composer himself to the flames as the works were not deemed worthy enough by him.

Brahms Billroth seated with a friend Brahms and Billroth (seated), with a friend 

Billroth also participated (often at soirées at his own home) as musician in trial rehearsals of Brahms’ compositions of chamber music before their debut performances. And so it was that Brahms dedicated his first two string quartets, Opus 51, to Billroth.

Billroth and Brahms, together with Viennese music critic Eduard Hanslick were conservatives pitted against the innovations of Richard Wagner and Franz Liszt in the ideological conflict called the War of the Romantics. Billroth, while supporting his friend Brahms, was also candid enough to acknowledge Wagner’s “very considerable talent in many directions.”

Hanslick Brahms Billroth Hanslick, Brahms and Billroth

Brahms supported Billroth in the writing of his essay “Wer ist Musikalisch?” (“Who is Musical?”), published posthumously. It was one of the earliest attempts to scientifically examine the concept of “musicality”. Although Billroth’s research into the subject was cut short by his death, he identifies various types of “amusicality” (tone-deafness, rhythm-deafness, harmony-deafness) and the cognitive skills involved in music perception.

The extent of the friendship between Billroth and Brahms is evident to us today from the over 300 letters and exchanges that survive between them.

The friendship cut across social lines. Both were born in port cities in north Germany, Brahms in Hamburg and Billroth in Bergen auf Rügen on the Baltic Sea. But there the similarity ended. Brahms came from a poor family. His father played bass in the taverns and brothels of the Reeperbahn, Hamburg’s notorious red-light district, and some historical sources even claim that Brahms himself as a teenager played piano in the brothels for a living. Billroth on the other hand was born into an upper middle-class family; his father was a Protestant pastor of Swedish descent and his mother had French ancestry.

The friendship, however, did have its rough patches, almost unravelling towards the end of their lives. Billroth increasingly began to get irritated by the lack of social etiquette and “gruffness” of Brahms. His views are better understood in a reading of Billroth’s book “The Medical Sciences in the German Universities” in the section titled “A Study in the History of Civilization” in which he betrays a contempt for students of humbler socio-economic backgrounds (pretty much like Brahms) aspiring to a medical career, coupled with anti-Semitism. One could argue that his views were a reflection of the thinking of the time, but one cannot help noticing the ironic contrast between the two friends: Brahms did not let his origins hamper his vision or his legacy; whereas Billroth, for all the privilege at his command from birth and his very obvious surgical genius was unable to shake off petty prejudices despite having in his friend a living example to prove them wrong. One of his quotes reads; “Science and art scoop from the same well.” It is sad that he was unable to see that people like him and Brahms were also “from the same well”, regardless of birth or circumstance.

Nevertheless, he apparently remarked on learning of Brahms dedicating the string quartets to him, that Billroth would now be remembered for posterity on account of the dedication. We know better, of course.

Another of his quotes: “It is a most gratifying sign of the rapid progress of our time that our best text-books become antiquated so quickly”. Billroth continues to find mention in text-books, while his abiding love of music has faded into the background. But what if he had chosen the path of music over medicine? Would we still remember him today?

(An edited version of this article was published on 13 September 2015 in my weekend column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Panorama section of the Navhind Times Goa India)

“You want drama? Go to the opera!”


I am grateful to my friend Christabelle for suggesting I go see “Mission Impossible 5 Rogue Nation”. The film is chock full of allegory and oblique references to real-life incidents.

Let’s start with the names of the protagonists. Could Ethan Hunt (played by Tom Cruise in the series) be a reference to Everette Howard Hunt (1918-2007), CIA operative implicated in the Watergate scandal and prolific author of espionage novels written under pseudonyms? What about Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), British intelligence agent who is compelled to make a ‘Faust’-ian pact with the ‘devil’, or the villain in this piece? The acronym of Mission Impossible 5 is MI5, and the plot centres around a malevolent force within the British intelligence service, although it is MI6 that gets the spotlight.

Hunt also works for IMF, acronym for Impossible Missions Force, that gets indicted for its reckless activities and for unilaterally carrying out missions unfettered by checks and balances. How can one possibly not think of the “other” IMF, the International Monetary Fund, whose critics highlight its disregard for human and labour rights of less empowered people across the world, and its support of anti-communist regimes and military dictatorships whose interests align with those of American and European governments and corporations?

Hunt, in his research into the Syndicate, finds that seemingly unconnected world events are not so random but seem to be the work of an evil organisation, The Syndicate. As plotlines go, it is rather trite (Remember Spectre from James Bond? Ho hum). The examples he cites are culled from real life, though: mysterious airplane crashes (can one help thinking of the ill-fated Malaysian Airlines flight numbers 370 and 17 from just last year?), terror attacks in disparate corners of the world, collapses of banks and economies, etc.

The principal figure after Attlee in the Syndicate is rogue agent Solomon Lane. Why Solomon? A reference to the Key of Solomon, the grimoire or textbook of magic and the ‘dark arts’? And to ‘black ops’ launched by governments, often with no transparent motive?

The name of the IMF operations officer is, of all possible names, Willy Brandt! Former Chancellor of then West Germany Wilhelm “Willy” Brandt spent the twilight of his career countering allegations that he had been on the CIA payroll. Furthermore, one of his personal assistants was found to be an East German spy.

The film suffers from the irritating Hollywood tendency to portray the American-run IMF as the ultimate heroes, showing up the obviously inept, mole-ridden MI6, protecting the world from The Syndicate, and even saving the life of the British Prime Minister as they do so.

Now on to the music. Hunt is on the run from both The Syndicate and his own colleagues because it is deemed that the IMF should be disbanded for overstepping its limits and its unorthodox methods. He sends his friend Benji within the IMF tickets to the opera in distant Vienna. We are treated to on- and off-stage thrills and spills (“You want drama? Go to the opera”, Hunt tells Benji on the phone) at Vienna’s State Opera House (Wiener Staatsoper). And the opera? Giacomo Puccini’s Turandot.

mission impossible turandot

The number 3, wittingly or otherwise, features strongly in Turandot. It is in three acts, to start with. Suitors for the hand of Chinese princess Turandot have to answer three riddles, with any wrong answer resulting in death. Sounds like a Mission Impossible right there. Anyone wishing to take up this challenge has to strike a ceremonial gong thrice. The plot is said to respect the “three classical unities of time, space and action.” There are three Imperial Ministers in the cast, with the ridiculous names of Ping, Pang and Pong.

In Rogue Nation, Ilsa Faust is put through (but fails) three tests which would win her acceptance into The Syndicate and enable her to infiltrate it. In the opera, Turandot refuses to marry suitor Calaf even though he successfully answers her three riddles, whereupon he offers her a “way out” of her promise: if she can guess his name before dawn the next day, he is prepared to die at daybreak. In the film, after Faust’s three failed tests, Hunt and Faust discussed possibility of a “way out” for her to still infiltrate the Syndicate despite this. These and many other nuances are elaborated further in Jay Dyer’s excellent assessment of the film on his website http://www.jaysanalysis.com.

The climax of the action in the opera house is the famous aria “Nessun dorma” (“None shall sleep tonight”). Faust has the aria score with her, and has circled the high note at the very end of the aria, at which she is to assassinate the Austrian Chancellor. The word being sung at this point, significantly, is “Vincerò!” (“I will win!”), which would be another “win” for the Syndicate if it were carried out.

Other lyrics from the aria resonate in the film as well: “But my secret is hidden within me. None will know my name!”

Faust is of course being put to the test by the Syndicate, and they have their own trusty ‘back-up’ assassin, who has managed to sneak in his weapon, ‘cleverly’ concealed within a bass flute! Funnily enough, so many woodwind and brass instrument players get stopped at airport security checks by officials who are mystified by the contents of their cases on X-ray. A musician friend actually had to assemble her instrument (bassoon) and allay their fears at Mumbai airport! They then broke into smiles and enjoyed her playing.

The melodic material of ‘Nessun Dorma’ appears quite a few times later in the film, even being intertwined with Lalo Schifrin’s iconic “Mission Impossible” theme.

The concept of a “play within a play” goes back to Shakespeare, perhaps even earlier. And this is not the first time a spy thriller has used opera as a backdrop for an action sequence. I wrote about ‘Quantum of Solace’ and Tosca (also by Puccini, as it happens) in an earlier column a while ago.

From “operatives” (as in secret agents) to “opera” is not such a big leap after all.

(An edited version of this article was published on 6 September 2015 in my weekend column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Panorama section of the Navhind Times Goa India)

Say You Love Me, Mehbooba!

In the late 1990s, a foreign tourist befriended me. I no longer remember his name or from which European country he came from (I think it was Austria), but he was a musician and studying composition in his country. He had come to India to study its music, and had fallen in love with filmi (today better known as Bollywood) music.

He told me that one song in particular had caught his fancy, and that he planned to write a piece inspired by its catchy melody. When he sang the tune to me, I couldn’t help laughing. It was the hit song ‘Nazrein Mili Dil Dhadka (Love You Raja)’ from the Madhuri Dixit starrer ‘Raja’ (1995), all the rage at that time. I pointed out to him that the song was a direct lift from Billy Vaughn’s runaway hit ‘Come September’, composed by Bobby Darin, from the eponymous 1961 romantic comedy film featuring Sandra Dee, Rock Hudson and Gina Lollobrigida. He wouldn’t believe me, until I actually showed him the 45 rpm record and played it for him. He was quite crestfallen, and I don’t know if he followed through on his decision to compose a piece ‘inspired’ by this melody that he had believed to be so intrinsically Indian.

I was reminded of this when the media attention turned recently to the fortieth anniversary of ‘Sholay’ (1975), that historic film which has endeared itself to several generations of the Indian diaspora across the world.

The runaway success of the blockbuster is due to a whole host of factors, not least among them the film soundtrack and the many songs that have acquired cult status. Among them is ‘Mehbooba Mehbooba’. With lyrics by Anand Bakshi, the music has been officially attributed to Rahul Dev Burman. Burman himself even sings the song. But the melody and structure of the song is almost wholly identical to ‘Say You Love Me’ by Egyptian-Greek singer Artemios Ventouris-Roussos, better known to us as Demis Roussos, and who died in January this year.

Now here’s the thing. ‘Say You Love Me’ seems to have been released in 1974, a year before Sholay. So could Burman have gotten his ‘inspiration’ for ‘Mehbooba’ from here?

Or could one or both of them have in turn been ‘inspired’ by ‘Ta Rialia’, a traditional song in the Cypriot dialect popularised by Mihalis Violaris, which rose to the top of the charts in Greece in 1973?

It would certainly seem so. The three songs are much too similar for it to be coincidence.

Voliaris’ version of ‘Ta Rialia’ (which means ‘The Money’ in Greek, something that besieged country sorely needs right now) begins at a measured pace with a trilling flute, and two Greek mandolins playing the introduction in thirds in the Greek folk tradition. A Greek Sandouri (a close cousin of our santoor) and a bass instrument complete the orchestration, while a chorus repeats each line sung by Voliaris, in typical folk fashion. It is a seductive song, with the gist implying that the woman being sung about (with an ‘angelic body and a ring-like waist’) can become his, for the money, with even a smutty reference to a pimp (if the English translation can be relied upon).

The allure of ‘Ta Rialia’ must have proved irresistible to Demis Roussos, who was born and raised in Alexandria Egypt before the Suez crisis compelled his family to move to Greece when he was ten. The cosmopolitan nature of 1950s Alexandria, the harmonious co-existence of many communities and assimilation with cultures stayed with him, and Arabic music remained a huge influence on him.

Roussos cranks up the tempo considerably, adding a rather large percussion section, which seems to include tambourines, tom-toms, and maracas. He still retains the folk pattern of the repetition of each line by a chorus. The lyrics are a clumsy fit, though, with words like ‘patiently’, tenderly’ getting the wrong syllables emphasised: patient-LY, tender-LY.

Burman’s ‘Mehbooba’ has a pace midway between the Voliaris and Roussos songs. He builds the excitement quotient gradually, and Ramesh Sippy mirrors this brilliantly on screen. A syncopated beat of an octave (bass at the root, and a flute at the top) against a steady, resolute drum beat sets it off while the campfire-lit dacoits’ den is revealed to us, and just the flute begins its fluttering trill, the ‘thrill’ (the belly dancer played wonderfully by Helen) is made manifest to us. Then the dance beat plays out in earnest, with the entire percussion section unleashed as Helen gyrates round the fire. We hear the introductory melody, played singly (as with Roussos) and not in thirds, as Voliaris does in his version of ‘Ta Rialia’.

mehbooba sholay

The melody of the sung portion, which ascends and descends in steps with Roussos becomes much more undulating in Burman’s adaptation. Bakshi-Burman also add an open-ended couplet, whose melody is not part of either ‘Ta Rialia’ or ‘Say You Love Me’: ‘Phool bahaaron se nikla, chaand sitaaron se nikla, Dilrooba’. The instrumental interludes provide an opportunity for the action in the film to move forward, and we see the saboteurs Jai and Veeru plant their explosives in the camp, without missing the sung portions of the song.

There are no choral forces on the soundtrack of ‘Mehbooba’ with the lyrics all sung by Burman himself (lipsynched memorably and flamboyantly by Jalal Agha on screen).

In general, Bakshi’s lyrics in ‘Mehbooba’ fit the melody so much better than do those in ‘Say You Love Me’. The elegant Urdu text reads as poetry on its own merit. The song may be a copy, but it has been reworked masterfully, and I know I am biased, but it is an improvement upon its templates.

Further down the line, to continue the cascade of ‘inspiration’, we have A La Carte’s disco hit ‘Doctor Doctor Help Me Please’. It has dance-floor and eye-candy appeal, but despite desperate calls for medical help, the song has too much ‘trouble in its knee’. It lacks the finesse and craftsmanship of ‘Mehbooba’. The A La Carte song was short-lived, but ‘Mehbooba’ lives on, in its original version and remixes, and has spawned several imitations.

Imitation is the best form of flattery, isn’t it? To paraphrase Tina Turner, What’s Copyright Got To Do With It?

(An edited version of this article was published on 30 August 2015 in my weekend column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Panorama section of the Navhind Times Goa India)

Music and Mathematics: The Fibonacci Sequence

Life very often throws some curious coincidences my way. Just as I was preparing a presentation for architecture students at the Goa College of Architecture on ‘Architecture and Music’ and looking at the relationship of the Fibonacci sequence to music, what should appear in my newsfeed but the announcement of the famed piano firm Steinway and Sons unveiling its 600,000th piano, incorporating the iconic Fibonacci spiral in its design.

The veneer of the “Fibonacci” piano features the eponymous spiral made from six individual logs of Macassar Ebony, “creating a fluid design that represents the geometric harmony found in nature.”


In the words of designer Frank Pollaro, who spent over 6000 work-hours over four years in its creation: “Designing Steinway & Sons’ 600,000th piano was an honour and a challenge.  To me, knowing that this piano would become part of history meant that it had to be more than just a beautiful design, but also needed to visually convey a deeper message….As I considered the number 600,000, the Fibonacci spiral came to mind.  The way in which it continues to grow but stay true to its form is very much like Steinway & Sons over these many years. Combining the universal languages of music and mathematics suddenly made perfect sense.”

Mind you, 600,000 is not a number in the Fibonacci sequence; I checked. 600,000 is between the 29th and 30th numbers in the Fibonacci series, which are 514,229 and 832,040 respectively. But Pollaro was nevertheless highlighting an interesting relationship between music and mathematics.

Named after the Italian mathematician Leonardo Fibonacci (c. 1170- c. 1250) who brought the Indian-Arabic numeral system to Europe, the Fibonacci series appear in nature and in music, and finds application in architecture and in instrument design, much before the Fibonacci Steinway.

The basic ideas of the Fibonacci progression are contained in the writings of Indian scholar Pingala (300-200 BC) in his treatise on Sanskrit prosody.

The Fibonacci numbers have the following integer sequence: 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144, 233, 377, 610, 987 and onward. Each added number is the sum of two previous numbers before it.

In nature, the Fibonacci sequence underpins phyllotaxis (arrangement of leaves on a stem), branching in trees, fruit sprouts of a pineapple among many other examples, and even the shape of the human external ear, and the cochlear apparatus of the inner ear.

It can be applied to the western musical scale as well, with the caveat that the starting note one makes the measurement from (or the ‘root’ note) is designated as 1 and not 0. By this token, there are 13 notes in a scale through its octave. There are 8 notes in a diatonic scale (hence the top note is called an ‘oct’ave). The 5th and 3rd notes create the basic foundation of musical chords. All these are Fibonacci numbers.

The very notes in the scale are based on natural harmonics created by ratios of frequencies. Ratios found in the first seven numbers of the Fibonacci series (0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8) are related to key frequencies of musical notes. Thus if we take an arbitrary frequency of 440 Hz, the root note has a ratio of 1/1, but the octave above it has a frequency of 880 Hz (2/1 of 440); a fifth above has a frequency of 660 Hz (3/2 of 440), and so on for other notes in the scale.

In last Sunday’s article, I had mentioned the “golden proportion” or phi, which underpins the proportions of the Parthenon temple in the Acropolis in Athens, Greece. This “golden ratio” (also called the “golden section”, “golden mean” or the “divine proportion”) of 1:1618 or 0.618 has influenced composition in painting and photography, prompting the notion of dividing a canvas into thirds vertically and horizontally, and to position a subject of interest “about one-third” of the way across instead of in the centre.

This “golden ratio” can be obtained by dividing a Fibonacci number (in the higher reaches, not the first few) by its immediate predecessor. The quotient approximates phi (φ). Thus 987/610= 1.61803, and its inverse is 0.618.

The climax or high point of many songs and other compositions is often found at the ‘phi’ (φ) point (61.8%) of the work. We have seen this to be true in the first movement of J. S. Bach’s G minor sonata for solo violin.

In many compositions in sonata form, the addition of a coda causes the recapitulation (the return of the original idea that started the work) to begin at the 61.8% point.

The legendary violin maker Antonio Stradivari seemed to be aware of the “golden section” and used it in the placement of the f-holes on his violins. The proportions of the violin conform to the ratios of ‘phi’ (φ). The spiral of a violin scroll also obeys the Fibonacci progression.

Isn’t it amazing, how the visual and aural world, indeed Nature itself can all be unified by the same mathematical sequence?

(An edited version of this article was published on 23 August 2015 in my weekend column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Panorama section of the Navhind Times Goa India)

Structure and Form in Music: Rostropovich and the Golden Point

Like so many of you who’ve learnt to play a musical instrument, I too was guided by my teacher to go through the hoops of the British-based music exams. We’d take successive exams each year, even though we played other music as well. A lot of my ‘other’ playing involved church music, in our São Tomé chapel and wherever in Goa our parish priest and founder of our Santa Cecilia music school Fr. Martin Fernandes took us. Even today, I have a sense of déjà vu when I visit a very remote church or chapel, and realise with a start that we had played at a feast or novena mass there in my childhood. And although the violin is not common used today in tiatr, I have fond memories of playing in a few, as also in school operettas.

But when it came to solo playing, apart from a few violin tutors (Eta Cohen was and still is a favourite with violin teachers), we spent a lot of time on “exam pieces.” Whenever in the exam hierarchy one need to study theory and “form” in music, we were directed to prescribed textbooks that addressed these, I have to say, quite technically and dispassionately. There were seen as “necessary evils” to be temporarily addressed for the sake of the exams, and then promptly forgotten.

It took a visit by the great cellist Mstislav Rostropovich (1927-2007) to Goa in 1988 to open my eyes to the importance of structure and form in music.


I was in my final year MBBS at the time. I think I can safely say that Goa has not been graced by a public concert by a musician of greater eminence than he. His visit to India created a veritable stir in musical circles nationwide as well. I know of at least one eager cellist who shadowed Rostropovich on his concert itinerary, attending every recital of his, in Mumbai, Goa, Delhi & Calcutta.

When it was announced that Rostropovich would take the time during his stay in Goa to do a little teaching, we were ecstatic. I couldn’t sleep the nights before that day, so nervous was I at the prospect of playing before someone larger than life.

But my apprehensions were unfounded, as he was such a gentle, unassuming man. He greeted us in typical Russian fashion, with a bear hug and a kiss on either cheek, and then got us started.

I remember I had chosen the first movement (Adagio) of Johann Sebastian Bach’s sonata in G minor for solo violin. He listened patiently as I played, and then he floored me with a question: “Where is the “golden point?”

He then compared a musical phrase to an arch, how each phrase has its own pinnacle, how phrases are part of a larger design, and the importance of studying a piece architecturally as it were, before proceeding to play it.

But the term he used, the “golden point”, intrigued me. His parting shot to me was an enigmatic “Find the golden point!” Did he mean in the Adagio I had just played for him? Or in general? Perhaps both.

This took place before the internet and Google, so my “searches” were confined to the limited books available to me, either my own or in the library, and asking whoever I thought might be able to shed more light on this. I did not get anywhere.

A decade or so later, things had changed. Not only was the internet firmly entrenched in our lives (although I still did not have a computer of my own), but I was now in London, and had access to the wonderful library at the Barbican Centre. One of the first things I began to look up was this “golden point”.

And as if on cue, around this time, I watched a fascinating BBC documentary on this very subject. Briefly, the “golden proportion” is at least as old as ancient Greece. The famous Parthenon in Athens utilises the template of a rectangle whose sides are in the “golden proportion of 1:1618, or 0.618:1.

This “golden ratio”, known as ‘phi’, also finds application in some (but obviously not all) music composition. In pieces where it is employed, the “climax”, or “golden point” occurs at 61.8% of its length.

And so I’ve gone back to study the piece I played for Rostropovich, the Bach Adagio from his first sonata for solo violin. It is 22 bars long, and there is a major turning point in the music at bar 13, exactly 61.8% (22 times 0.618 equals 13.596) into the work.

Coincidence? I think not. Bach’s obsession with numbers and their mystical, often religious significance and symbolism is by now well-known. New facets to his prolific output are still being discovered, as his music gets painstakingly analysed, bar by bar, phrase by phrase.

So did I finally find the “golden point” that Rostropovich urged me to seek? Or is it somewhere else? Was he speaking metaphorically? I’ll never know. But I’ll always be grateful to him for setting me upon this quest.

(An edited version of this article was published on 16 August 2015 in my weekend column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Panorama section of the Navhind Times Goa India)

Playing the Human Game

Alfred Brendel, widely considered ‘one of the greatest pianists of all time’, played his last public concert in 2008. I consider myself fortunate to have heard him perform several times during my years in England before this.

I remember being intrigued on finding, in addition to his recordings, his many books on sale before the concerts and in the interval. This is how I learnt that “next to music, literature is Brendel’s second life and occupation.” At the time, my job required me to move every year or less from one poky accommodation into another, so I had to be careful to keep my possessions in control. Luckily, wherever I went, the council libraries were well-stocked, and even if they didn’t have the latest releases, one could requisition them, and they would be procured very quickly.

I remember ordering Brendel’s “One Finger Too Many” from my local library soon after it was in print. I found his witty, wickedly funny and often also simultaneously profound poetry in a class by itself. His zany brand of humour was something I had not imagined, from his stage presence as a respected pianist. The poems were translations from the original German, and I was able to enjoy the poems in both languages. It was interesting to observe how the translations (by Richard Stokes), rather than being literal, took artistic liberties in order to retain the essence of the poems in English.

And now, all these years after relocating back here, I found ‘Playing the Human Game’ (Phaidon Press 2011), another compilation of Brendel’s poems on a friend’s bookshelf and was thrilled when she let me borrow it.

Playing the human game

The poems can be savoured on their own, but quite a few of them make references to earlier poems in ‘One Finger Too Many’. For instance, Brendel makes a wry comment about what a performer has to endure when we are introduced in ‘One Finger Too Many’ to the Coughers and Clappers in “The Poet of the Keyboard”:

“No one
ever dared open the windows
Fresh air
might harm the poetry
the music’s aroma
to be savoured undiluted
by ears flared like nostrils
craving nuances previously unfathomed
But not mocked as viciously as the coughers and sneezers – to be found at all perfomances:
Attempts by unfeeling artists or impresarios
to question such privileges
have led to a Coughers and Clappers initiative
Members are required to applaud
immediately after sublime codas
and cough distinctly
during expressive silences”

In ‘Playing the Human Game’, we hear of the Coughers and Clappers again:

“The Coughers of Cologne

have joined forces with the Cologne Clappers

and established a Cough and Clap Society

a non-profit-making organization

whose aim it is

to guarantee each concert-goer’s right

to cough and applaud

Attempts by unfeeling artists or impresarios

to question such privileges

have led to a Coughers and Clappers initiative

Members are required to applaud

immediately after sublime codas

and cough distinctly

during expressive silences

Distinct coughing is of paramount importance

to stifle or muffle it

forbidden on pain of expulsion

Coughers of outstanding tenacity

are awarded the Coughing Rhinemaiden

a handsome if slightly baroque appendage

to be worn dangling from the neck

The C&C’s recent merger

with the New York Sneezers

and the London Whistlers

raises high hopes

for Cologne’s musical future”

Some lines have been directly lifted from the earlier poem and inserted here as well. Also the English translation (again by Richard Stokes) transforms the Frankfurter Jungpfeifern (“young pipers”) into the London Whistlers.

His shorter poems appeal more to me. Take Brahms (I), for instance:

“When at dead of night the ghost appears

and starts prowling round the piano

then we know

Brahms has arrived

It wouldn’t be quite so bad

if his cigar smell

didn’t stink out the music room for days on end

Even worse though

is his piano playing

This wading through chords and double octaves

wakes even the children from their deep sleep

Not Brahms again

they wail

and stop their ears

Out of tune and smoking

the piano stands there

when Brahms gets up


he says several times

in a plaintive tenor

before leaving through the kitchen door”

He makes a reference to another of his books (‘Cursing Bagels’ 2004) in the poem titled ‘Beethoven’:

“In the hereafter

we can make up

for all we missed in life

Beethoven for example

can be retrieved

as a baker

With his customary fury

he hurls his dough into the oven

The resemblance of his sonata to pretzels

was first remarked upon by Tovey

but it was Schenker’s acute ear

that perceived the late bagatelles

as poppy-seed cake

The deceased master’s most recent composition

his ‘Cursing Bagels’


when you sink your teeth into them”

Brendel, among other things, seems to be making a dig at musical analysis here; Donald Tovey and Heinrich Schenker were noted musical analysts and theorists.

He loves wordplay as well. In the above poem, bagatelles are compared with bagels. In another poem, when writing about ‘piano devils’, he gives one the name Stechbein, which is the reputed piano firm Bechstein in scrambled form. He has a field day with Steinway as well. Its first part means “stone” in German, so there are references to “stony path” (“Steinweg” in the original German) in one poem. In scrambled form, it gets transformed into ‘Weinstay’, a drink that the piano devils love to get intoxicated with on Sundays.

His biting (there are several references to biting and being bitten in his poems) humour can have a dark side too. I’ll leave you with his poem Everything (II), a sober comment on the times we live in and our unquenchable thirst for retribution:

“We’re everything

We’re against everything

Everything must end in the end

The beginning of the end

must be a new beginning

the beginning of a new end

we fervently long to begin

No we don’t want a new end

Our beginning

does not end

What it in the end begins

is final

No we don’t want a new beginning

but what we do want

is to kill”

(An edited version of this article was published on 9 August 2015 in my weekend column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Panorama section of the Navhind Times Goa India)

Gypsies and Gardens, Distant Seas and a Top C!

By a quirk of fate, I happened to be giving a presentation to first-year students at the Goa College of Architecture Altinho on “Architecture and Music” just a day before the Patricia Rozario and Fidelio Trio concert at the Menezes Braganza Hall. While elaborating on how structure and form are such an important aspect of music, I could not resist also commenting on the symmetry, unity and connections within the concert programme the following day.

A concert featuring voice with piano trio is an unusual combination, and the repertoire for these forces is limited. The programme began and ended with a piano trio (Franz Josef Haydn’s ‘Gypsy Rondo’ Piano Trio no. 39 in G major, Hob XV:25; and Camille Saint-Säens’ Piano Trio no. 2 in E minor, Opus 92), and the central part of the concert featured Rozario at first with the piano trio (Dmitri Shostakovich’s Seven Romances on poems by Alexander Blok, Opus 127) before the interval, and then with the string duo (Jonathan Dove’s ‘Minterne’ inspired by Vikram Seth’s eponymous set of poems) after it.

The two works for soprano had some similarities as well. Both had texts of poems set to music. In both cases, the composer had close friends in mind when inspired to write for that specific combination of instruments. In an earlier article, I had mentioned that Shostakovich had begun setting a poem by Blok for his friends, Mstislav Rostropovich (cello) and his wife Galina Vishnevskaya (soprano), and in a brandy-fuelled creative burst, extended this to include six other poems by Blok and drew in two other friends, David Oistrakh (violin) and Sviatoslav Richter (piano).

In the case of the Dove composition, we have an added facet, as Jonathan Dove is not only a self-confessed fan of Vikram Seth’s writing, but knows him personally. Dove was introduced to Seth’s poetry through his verse novel ‘Golden Gate’ some twenty years ago, and was “musically very attracted by the deceptively simple eloquence and rhythmic clarity of his verse.” Dove set thirteen of Seth’s poems from his collection ‘All You Who Sleep Tonight’ as a song-cycle.

‘Minterne’ is a set of poems commissioned from Seth by patroness of the arts Veronica Stewart for her close friend The Lady Dione Digby to celebrate the 45th anniversary of the Summer Music Society of Dorset. The poems celebrate the history of Minterne House (home of the Digby family for over 350 years) and the beauty of its gardens.

To quote from Dove’s own programme notes on the composition, “Veronica and Vikram suggested bringing together Patricia Rozario, Philippe Honoré [violinist and Seth’s own close friend] and Steven Isserlis [cellist].” Dove and Rozario had independently been discussing the idea of his writing something for her, and he was also keen to write for Honoré and Isserlis, “so it felt as if this friendly collaboration between commissioner, writer, composer, singer and instrumentalists had a kind of inevitability.”

This made the presence of Patricia Rozario, singing a work that had been written expressly for her, even more significant, giving us in effect its Goan premiere.

Organising a concert can be hard work, with so many details to be tended to all at once. But one fringe benefit is being up close with professional musicians before ‘the curtain goes up’, as it were. Rozario and the Fidelio Trio (Darragh Morgan violin; Adi Tal cello; Mary Dullea piano) were at the end of a whirlwind concert tour of India when they touched down in Goa a few hours before the concert. It was instructive to watch how they put the needs of the concert (position of the grand piano and the other performers on the stage, the illumination) before their own. After grabbing a quick bite nearby, they went through little fragments of each movement of each work that needed attention. Hearing them discuss with each other the finer points of what they wished to accomplish in these sections was like attending an impromptu masterclass. We in the audience hear the finished product, but watching them work at tiny details a few bars at a time gives one an idea of the immense amount of energy, forethought and preparation it takes for us to be able to listen to a high-calibre concert.


The entire concert programme was a delight, with an ‘old friend’ (the Haydn ‘Gypsy’ Trio, which gets performed more often, but like an old friend still never fails to please), two ‘new’ ones (the Shostakovich and the Dove, both of which Goa was hearing for the first time), and the mighty Saint- Säens Trio, which must have been performed at some point in Goa, but certainly not in recent memory.

We had a good turn-out at the concert, and I was especially thrilled that so many of my Child’s Play children were able to come as well (and a few of their parents as well), despite the rains and it being a school night. It is so important for children to hear great music performed live. It sets a high benchmark, and creates positive role models for them to aspire to.

I quizzed my viola kids the next day at our routine class about the concert, and it was evident that they had been actively listening through the concert. Despite not having had the benefit of a programme brochure (we could only print so many to keep costs down), they still had an admirable sense of the structure of the pieces, and even of the English lyrics in the Dove.

They particularly loved the setting of the ‘Rocking Horse’ poem, with its ‘rocking’ melody to match the text, and the ‘something something’ in the lyrics in the opening and closing verses. And they spotted the ‘top C’ that Rozario requested Dove to write into the composition.

All our children were bowled over by the virtuosic brilliance of the playing of the Fidelio Trio as well, in the piano trios, and in the rest of the programme. The top C might have been the literal ‘high point’ in the Dove, but the whole concert was a ‘high point’ for all of us at Child’s Play, and dare I say, for Goa’s concert calendar for some time to come.

(An edited version of this article was published on 2 August 2015 in my weekend column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Panorama section of the Navhind Times Goa India)


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