I first met Anthea Luna-Marie Dias in the months running up to our 2016 Child’s Play Christmas concert. We were being visited by Juilliard-trained cellist-conductor Avery Waite, and our Camerata Child’s Play rehearsals were underway.
Anthea was just ten years old, but already playing to a level that she could handle the demands (the Christmas medley needed a few shifts beyond the third position, so beyond the ‘comfort zone’ of many, and some artificial harmonics) of the first violin part.
Despite the distance from Margão to twice-weekly Panjim rehearsals, she was prompt and prepared every time. I made a special mention of her at the Christmas concert, and have had my eye on Anthea’s progress ever since.
In November 2016, I forwarded a video of Anthea playing the first movement of the Mozart violin concerto no. 3 (K. 316) in G major to a violin pedagogue in the Symphony Orchestra of India because her playing was already fairly impressive.
My friendship with her teacher Winston Collaco spans several decades. We probably first met in the 1980s, playing together under the baton of Maestro Rev. Fr. Lourdino Barreto. In my medical student years, I would take my violin to college on Saturdays so that I could go directly from Bambolim to Margao to take lessons from Winston. So yes, he’s been a violin teacher at least since then! In 1986, he prepared me for Grade 8 of the Trinity College exam and helped me secure an Honours grade.
We became even closer in 1989, the year that American violin pedagogue and conductor Prof. George Trautwein and his wife Barbara were in Goa. Winston and I were the exact same ages as their own two sons, and we became like their surrogate children here. I still fondly remember that year (which happily coincided with the liberating year of my internship, relatively free from medical studies) as a golden year in widening my musical horizons.
Then I got caught up in my obstetrics and gynaecology residency, and if I remember right Winston got into the banking profession. Nevertheless, after relocating back to Goa after a decade in the UK to set up Child’s Play India Foundation (www.childsplayindia.org), the first teacher I turned to when we began our partnership with Hamara School was Winston.
Irfan Shimpigar, who was in that first batch of students and is still with us at Child’s Play, is a beneficiary of the crucial initial grounding given by Winston. Sadly, after about a year and a half, Winston wasn’t able to sustain the schedule of weekly lessons with Child’s Play.
But we continued to stay in touch. I was aware that Winston was hugely sought-after as a violin teacher. But I only heard Anthea play again at the SPIC-MACAY end-of-workshop concert at the Kala Academy conducted by visiting Norwegian musicians some months ago. She played the first two movements of the Beethoven ’Spring’ violin sonata (Opus 24, no. 5) in F major with remarkable poise, facility and confidence.
The time was more than ripe for her to give a public recital to a larger audience than the sparse turn-out at the SPIC-MACAY concert, and I am glad that ProMusica provided this platform to her, along with many teenage performers and a few older ones.
I attended the Porvorim concert on 21 April 2018. Anthea (understandably due to time constraints, as she was sharing the stage with eight other soloists) played just the first movement of the Spring Sonata.
When I read on the programme that she would also be playing Pablo de Sarasate’s Zigeunerweisen (Gypsy Airs), opus 20, at first I was incredulous.
The work is a mini-concerto, (scored for violin and piano, and recorded by the composer himself and later arranged for violin and orchestra), with a dramatic ‘first movement’ with much quasi-improvisatory cadenza-like virtuoso writing, a muted, melancholy central movement, and a fiery (you almost expect to see sparks fly from the contact of bow with string) devil-may-care vivace finale in the style of the irrepressible Hungarian folk dance, the csárdás. (Incidentally, Sarasate apparently ‘lifted’ the haunting central lyrical melody almost note-for-note from a Hungarian composer Elémer Szentirmay, and feigned innocence when challenged, claiming he had ‘heard it from gypsies’, and therefore presumed it to be a Roma folk tune!)
Szentirmay, Csak egy szép lány van a világon
Zigeunerweisen has virtually all the technique and pyrotechnics in a violinist’s bag-of-tricks: harmonics, glissandi, double-stopped passages, left- and right-hand pizzicato, flying spiccati and ricochet bowings. And it demands a “stream of beautiful sound” (a description by the famed Viennese music critic Eduard Hanslick of Sarasate’s own playing), particularly in, but not confined to, the un poco più lento ‘central movement’.
I must confess (despite knowing of her commendable recent ATCL triumph) I was not aware that little Anthea had such prowess under her belt, and I was on the edge of my seat, hands clenched together almost in prayer as she began to play. But she tossed off the fireworks with such nonchalance and played with a sweet tone and maturity beyond her years. She seemed to be relishing every moment of the drama. That she was fully ‘in the zone’ was evident from the way she calmly took off her mute and looked over her shoulder to cue her accompanist Maria Gisela Pereira to launch into the runaway dash to the finish line.
Although we share a surname, Anthea Dias is not a relative, and there is no conflict of interest in my showering well-deserved praise upon her. I have never heard any Goan 12-year-old, or older or younger, ever play on any instrument as prodigiously or precociously as Anthea did that evening. And I am not alone in this opinion. Let me share what my friend Nigel Britto, Times of India music critic, who trekked all the way down to Margão for the 28 April concert just to hear her had to say on social media shortly after: “There are very, very few people as gifted as Anthea Dias, all of 12 years old, from Margão. Recently watched her perform Sarasate’s Zigeunerweisen, and was stunned. Blazing proficiency, supreme confidence, and an unusually profound feel for the music. For those nine-odd minutes at Harmonia, time stood still. Nobody’s concentration wavered. Couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Saying that jaws dropped all around would be an understatement.”
And I am even more excited to learn after a conversation I had later with Winston, that getting other young children to Anthea’s level and even beyond, is a very realistic goal, with the proper coaching. If anyone can bring about a true ‘Renaissance’ in classical music in Goa, it is not organisers of flashy pseudo-intellectual mumbo-jumbo concerts in exotic locations, or old-wine-in-new-bottle ensembles, choral and instrumental, with the same tired old ‘usual suspects’, but it is music educators like my friend Winston Collaco, who lovingly nurture tender young minds, hands, hearts and souls to their fullest potential.
(An edited version of this article was published on 13 May 2018 in my weekend column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Panorama section of the Navhind Times Goa India)