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)