Mapping the introduction of Western classical music in India

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western classical music

India boasts of a rich musical heritage. It has been the melting pot of music since ages. Be it the soothing notes of hymns, electrifying music from a rock concert or the cheerful sound of the shehnai at weddings, you’ll find it all here. However, it took quite some time for the country to have its own professional symphony orchestra. It was in 2006 that the Symphony Orchestra of India (SOI) was set up in the country to widen its appeal of Western classical music.

“It’s shocking that we never had an orchestra like this before,” says Khushroo Suntook, the founder of SOI.

There are a number of reasons as to why such an orchestra was never established in the country. Suntook deems the unavailability of venues for training, rehearsal along with a “huge lack of emotion” for such music by a number of Indians as the major reasons for it.

“When audiences watch a live performance though, their attitude changes,” says Suntook. He dreams of increasing the popularity of this music with his compositions.

As a matter of fact, it was a chance encounter of Suntook with Kazakh violinist Marat Bisengeliv that led to the establishment of the SOI. Impressed with Bisengeliv’s performances in London, Suntook invited him to India.

“I couldn’t understand why there is no Western music following in India, especially when you compare it with China, which has some 200 symphony orchestras. Here, the British rulers didn’t present an opportunity for music; but if you give a parallel with Kazakhstan and Russian, it’s completely the opposite,” said Marat Bisengeliv.

Eventually, the duo decided to set up the SOI at the National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA), which has Suntook as one of its Chairpersons.

“We brought in Russian and Kazakh musicians and that was the nucleus of the orchestra,” says Suntook.

Over the years, the SOI has gained a little popularity in the country. It started training Indian musicians and teaching Western classical music in schools. However, there is still a long way to go.

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