I am sure every doctor remembers the cathartic sense of release after having passed the final MBBS exam. Textbooks could be shelved at last, and a whole year of internship stretched ahead of us invitingly. Real life would catch up with us soon enough, but for now the sense of freedom and abandon were exhilarating.
My own internship year of 1989 was sweetened considerably by the arrival of Dr. George Trautwein, violinist and conductor and visiting Fulbright scholar from Wakeforest University, North Carolina USA and his wife Barbara (also a musician, a clarinet player and band instructor in their home town of Winston-Salem). It was as if the stars had conspired to bring them to Goa at exactly the right time in my life.
Ever since the death of my violin teacher Carlos D’Costa at Santa Cecilia Music School in 1983, I had no steady guidance and felt the loss acutely. I would ambush visiting musicians backstage after concerts or in their hotel rooms just to get a few pointers on technique and other matters musical. So the arrival of Trautwein was a veritable godsend.
My internship year fell into a routine, where most evenings after work if not on-call, I’d go over to the Trautweins, for a violin lesson, or just to hang out with them. My friend Winston Collaco from Margao (who would also come up to study with Trautwein) and I were exactly the same ages as the Trautweins’ two sons Paul and Matthew, so they looked upon us as their own ‘children’ here in Goa.
Trautwein taught me so much in terms of violin playing. He encouraged me to climb into the higher reaches of the register, plumb the sonorities of all the strings using higher positions, and to try left-hand pizzicato, whole passages in natural and artificial harmonics, double- and triple-stopping, and schooled me in the different basic bow strokes like détaché, martelé, up- and down-bow staccato, spiccato, sautillé, and so much more.
We worked on such a lot: the Bach solo sonatas and partitas, both the Beethoven Romances for violin and orchestra (he encouraged me to perform the Romance in F which won me an all-Goa prize that year), quite a few Mozart violin sonatas and concertos, and even a few showpieces: I remember in particular the Sarasate Malagueña. And this is just the solo repertoire. I had never learnt so much in such a short time.
But I am grateful for much more than technique and repertoire. Just spending time conversing with the Trautweins opened a window to a whole new wide world of music, in terms of history, performance, standards and so many other aspects of the art and profession.
I dearly cherish the evenings we spent making chamber music, with George taking up viola and Barbara clarinet. On some subconscious level George became the inspiration to take to the viola myself, many years later. I remember playing the Mozart clarinet quintet, and string quartets by Mozart, Haydn, Johann Joachim Quantz and Frank Bridge.
Trautwein’s music lectures at the Kala Academy were far beyond anything we had encountered until then. Despite very basic facilities at the time (cyclostyled hand-outs and a cassette player, with Trautwein using his violin to emphasise a melodic figure or a rhythm), he took us to places we had never been before. His presentation on Mendelssohn’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ stays in my memory. No-one had ever explained a piece of music, its background, its structure, its clever use of motifs to represent characters in the narrative, before. It made music come literally alive to me.
He introduced me to the Bombay Chamber Orchestra (BCO), and I played two concerts under his baton there. The reason I am strolling down memory lane after almost thirty years, is that Providence brought two soloists from those concerts into my life again at the beginning of this year, in the span of less than a month. The first concert Trautwein conducted featured Rossini’s Barber of Seville overture, Bruch Violin Concerto (Madeleine Mitchell, soloist) and Mozart’s Piano Concerto K. 466 in D minor.
The other concert featured Ernest Bloch’s Concerto Grosso no. 1, two operatic arias (‘Pace mio Dio’ from Verdi’s La forza del Destino; and ‘Un bel di vedremo’ from Puccini’s Madama Butterfly) sung by Bombay-Goan soprano Celia Lobo, and the Bizet l’Arlesiene suite.
I followed violinist Madeleine Mitchell’s career during my UK years and was pleased to learn that she had risen to Professor of Violin at the Royal College of Music London. A Facebook correspondence with her last year got her on a tour of Dubai, India and Sri Lanka, and many of you attended her concert on 17 January 2017 at Menezes Braganza hall with Evelyn Dias as her pianist.
And a chance meeting at a heritage conference around the same time put me in touch with the daughter of Celia Lobo, who I had not met again since her concert in 1989. During those rehearsals, I would commute from Chembur, where Lobo also lived, to the rehearsal venue at the Max Mueller Bhavan at Kala Ghoda, and she very kindly would offer me a lift when we were rehearsing her arias.
Her daughter now filled me in on her mother’s recent recovery from a stroke, and as I happened to be going to Mumbai to NCPA’s staging of Puccini’s La Bohème, I offered to go with her to that concert.
And so fate reunited me with two soloists from the Trautwein BCO concerts in quick succession, after almost three decades. I continued to play with the BCO whenever my work schedule permitted, until I left for the UK in 1998.
The Trautweins also bestowed on me a huge legacy when the time came for them to leave: he left behind for me two whole suitcases crammed with audiotapes of music by composers I had hitherto never heard before: William Walton, Frank Bridge, Erich Korngold, Kurt Weill, Aram Khachaturian… the list is quite exhaustive. It set the tone for my listening and education about music for years to come.
I was fortunate to be reunited with the Trautweins in London and we brought in the new Millenium at Big Ben as it chimed twelve. Trautwein came to the UK again in 2008, and he drove several hours to meet with me in the US in 2012. All our meetings were marked by visits to museums and art galleries and stimulating conversation. We are still in touch, mostly by email, and despite health crises and scares, the Trautweins continue to enrich my life with their humour and news about their lives in music and the arts in general.
(An edited version of this article was published on 19 March 2017 in my weekend column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Panorama section of the Navhind Times Goa India)