The RSNO is on tour in China, and has so far also played concerts in Guangzhou,
and Shenzhen. Here they are, bringing in the New Year at the Shenzhen Concert Hall:
Look at the pictures carefully. These are purpose-built auditoria for western classical music, complete even with gleaming pipe organs in every one of them.
The Republic of India (gained Independence in1947) and the Peoples’ Republic of China (formed in 1949) are almost equal in age. Yet look at the discrepancy when it comes to the health and vigour of western classical music in our respective countries.
We could have been leaders of the pack in South Asia, given our centuries of exposure to western culture, the good relations we have enjoyed with the West since Independence in contrast to China’s poor track record until very recently, our decades of economic liberalisation, etc. Yet we are light years behind China, even though China went through its disastrous Cultural Revolution and mended its fences with the West only in the 1970s.
In a recent blog post, I had bemoaned the long list of factors that inhibit the flourishing of classical music in India, and among them the severe lack of purpose-built concert halls is an infrastructural biggie.
I do not claim to have visited every nook and cranny of India, but to my knowledge Mumbai’s NCPA (with its Jamshed Bhabha and Tata theatres) is the only purpose-built concert venue for western classical music in the whole country. Isn’t this tragic? In comparison, China has literally scores of them dotted all over. There seem to be at least seven in Beijing alone. In India’s capital city Delhi,the Siri Fort auditorium is the default option for visiting orchestras, and I have been told by reliable sources that the New York Philharmonic vowed never to return after they played there in 1983, due to the fact that it was woefully inadequate acoustically as a concert hall for western classical music. Having played there myself, I know first-hand how true this is. It is designed to be a destination for business conferences. It lacks the acoustic shell or panelling that a venue for orchestral music would need.
The Chinese government and private sector have invested heavily (and are still doing so) in western classical music, and it shows.
Is it any wonder that the world’s finest orchestras give India a miss, coming so tantalisingly close to us when they tour China? If they did come despite the bureaucratic red tape, where would they perform?
Every decent orchestra in the world needs a decent “home” to perform in. Perhaps it is no coincidence that there is just one professional, high-calibre orchestra in India, the SOI (Symphony Orchestra of India). They are resident at the NCPA, Mumbai, which as I said is the only purpose-built venue in the land.
Here is a list of the orchestras in China. 21 orchestras, each with their own home. When will India try and catch up?
Are you listening, Government of India? Or is a waste of time trying to get through to you?
Buck up, India! Dig deep into your pockets, Indian philanthropists, wherever you are (resident or NRI).
India has the inherent talent to form 21 high-quality orchestras and more, given half a chance and opportunity. We have to invest heavily in music education. There is an audience of over a billion people waiting in the wings.
The future of western classical music may well lie here in India. Let’s awaken this ‘sleeping giant’.